• 17 September 2015

Travelling Time Is Work Under New Ruling

by Macks Solicitors

Thousands of mobile workers including care staff, sales reps and electricians could be in for a cash boost after a new European Court of Justice ruling.

The judgement says journeys made by workers without a fixed or habitual place of work between their homes and the first and last customer of the day constitute working time.

The case involved Spanish firm Tyco, which installs and maintains security systems. Tyco closed its provincial offices in 2011 and assigned all employees to a central office in Madrid.

Technicians work on security equipment in homes and businesses within a patch given to them, so they have no fixed place of work. They can travel distances of up to 100 kilometres to jobs, taking them three hours to drive.

Tyco counts time spent travelling between home and the first and last customer of the day as “rest time”.

Before closing its regional offices, however, Tyco counted the working time of employees as starting when they arrived at the office.

Iain Atkinson, an employment law specialist at Macks Solicitors, said the ruling could have far-reaching unintended consequences.

“I am concerned that the impact of this latest ruling from the European Court of Justice may go well beyond the circumstances of this particular case,” he said.

“In this case, it has been reported that the employer concerned had chosen to close its regional offices, meaning that its employees no longer had a fixed place of work with a regular commute and instead found their commutes were subject to their employer’s decision as to where their first and last jobs would be.

“However, the ruling is almost certain to impact upon employers who have never had a fixed place of work for their employees, and whose employees took their jobs in the knowledge that their terms and conditions included a variable commute to their first place of work.

“It seems unfair that these employees will now be paid for that time spent travelling to and from their first place of work, whilst employees who do have a fixed place of work have their hours counted from the time they arrive at their place of work until the time they leave and do not receive any pay for their commuting time – no matter how long that commute may be.

“Surely there could have been a better way of dealing with this to prevent those employers who may be thought to be taking advantage of their employees, without also penalising the ones who clearly don’t?”

The decision has received a mixed response in the UK, with bosses representatives condemning it and union leaders giving it a welcome.

Neil Carberry, of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “It’s now important that the Government reaches a robust and effective definition of the ‘normal workplace’, so that travel to infrequently-visited client sites is covered, not ordinary commutes.”

David Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, which represents many care workers, said: “This case rightly demonstrates that mobile workers must be paid for all their working time. This judgement is bound to have a significant impact in the UK.

“Tens of thousands of home care workers are not even getting the minimum wage because their employers fail to pay them for the time they spend travelling between the homes of all the people they care for.”

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