Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

Working Conditions - Working Time Directive

The right to fair working conditions is set out in: 
  • the European Pillar of Social Rights 
    • Principle 10.: Healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection: Workers have the right to a high level of protection of their health and safety at work. […]
  • and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
    • Article 31: Fair and just working conditions
      1. Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity.
      2. Every worker has the right to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to an annual period of paid leave.

To protect workers’ health and safety, working hours must meet minimum standards applicable throughout the EU.

The EU’s Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) requires EU Member States to guarantee the following rights for all workers:

  • a limit to weekly working hours
    • the average working time for each seven day period must not exceed 48 hours, including overtime; 
    • depending on national legislation and/or collective agreements, the 48 hour average is calculated over a reference period of up to 4, 6 or 12 months
  • rest break during working hours if the worker is on duty for longer than 6 hours
  • minimum daily rest period 
    • in every 24 hours a worker is entitled to a minimum of 11 consecutive hours of rest
  • minimum weekly rest period
    • for each 7-day period a worker is entitled to a minimum of 24 uninterrupted hours in addition to the 11 hours' daily rest
  • paid annual leave of at least 4 weeks per year
  • extra protection in case of night work
    • average working hours must not exceed 8 hours per 24-hour period,
    • night workers must not perform heavy or dangerous work for longer than 8 hours in any 24-hour period,
    • night workers have the right to free health assessments and, under certain circumstances, to transfer to day work.

Under certain circumstances and with due regard to the protection of the health and safety of workers the Working Time Directive allows derogations from these rights:

  • derogations that refer to a  specific category of workers or to a sector
    • Member States may derogate from the rules on maximum weekly working time, minimum daily rest, breaks, minimum weekly rest and the length of night work
  • individual opt-out
    • Member States may allow an individual worker to opt-out from maximum weekly working time subject to strict conditions on the worker's consent, in particular the fact that he/she should not suffer any detriment if he/she refuses to opt-out, and to specific provisions on retaining records of opt-out decisions

The Working Time Directive also contains special rules that apply to certain categories of workers (mobile workers, offshore workers and workers on board of seagoing fishing vessels).

In specific transport sectors separate directives on working hours for certain workers apply. These sectors concern transport by air, rail, sea, inland waterways and road.

Better implementation

The need to ensure a healthy and safe work environment is at the core of the European Pillar of Social Rights. As a result, its principle 10(a) states that “workers have the right to a high level of protection of their health and safety at work”.

In that context, there is a need to increase awareness of existing social rights and to better support their implementation by Member States.

This is why in 2023 the Commission adopted an Interpretative Communication updating the 2017 Interpretative Communication, and an Implementation Report on the Working Time Directive. The Interpretative Communication aims to increase legal certainty and clarity concerning interpretation of the Directive, while the Implementation Report, required by Article 24 of the Working Time Directive to be presented every five years, analyses the state of play as regards its transposition. Jointly, these documents will assist Member States and stakeholders to ensure a better implementation of the Directive and deliver better results for citizens, businesses and public authorities.

This initiative corresponds to the objectives of the Commission in respect of effective application, implementation and enforcement as presented in the Communications:


Directive 2003/88/EC concerning certain aspects of the organisation of Working Time

Interpretative Communication – Legal guidance

Documents on application of Directive 2003/88/EC

Preparatory Documents to Directive 2003/88/EC

Archive documents

  • Working Time Directive Archives – more information on Directive 93/104/EC, Directive 2000/34/EC and documents on 2004-2012 initiative to amend Directive 2003/88/EC as well as on subsequent documents on Directive 2003/88/EC

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