European travel to work ruling: how does it affect you?

Judges rule time spent travelling to first appointment counts as 'work' for mobile employees

If you are a mobile employee without a fixed office, such as a tradesperson or in-house care worker, you will now be able to count the time spent travelling to and from your home as 'work', under a new ruling from the European Court of Justice.

The verdict has been criticised as "tormenting" businesses and a boost to those campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union, but trade unions have welcomed what they see as a "common sense" ruling that should also be reflected in wages. So how does this affect you?

What happened?

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Judges at the European Court of Justice upheld a claim brought by workers at Spanish security firm Tyco, which the BBC says "shut its regional offices down in 2011, resulting in employees travelling varying distances before arriving at their first appointment". The judges said the fact staff now begin and end their journey at home did not come "from the desire of the workers" and so they should not be forced to "bear the burden of their employer's choice".

Who does it affect?

Mobile workers across all EU countries will have to adhere to the principles of the ruling. This is why UK lawyers had got involved in the case, asking judges to consider the costs to businesses. If you work remotely and are not required to travel into your office before going onto appointments, you will be covered.

How will this change my working life?

It depends on whether you've opted out of the Working Time Directive, which is the law at issue in the case. This states that European workers are not obliged to work for more than 48 hours in a given week. If you've not opted out, your hours are currently counted from when you arrived at your first appointment and leave your last, and you work close 48 hours over a seven-day period, you may have your hours reduced or your visits moved closer to home.

And will it affect my pay?

Some lawyers believe it could, especially for those at or near the national minimum wage, whose working day has now officially been made longer. The Financial Times cites comments from Phil Allen, a partner at employment lawyer Weightmans, that there is "often a degree of overlap between the way the two regimes are interpreted".

But the BBC quotes employment law barrister Caspar Glyn, who dismisses any connection. He explains that the minimum wage is a UK law and that there is "no European right to a national minimum wage". So you can demand fewer hours under the time directive, but you cannot demand this interpretation of 'work' is used in relation to a UK-only wage law.

In as much as it sets a European legal precedent defining "work", however, this may be open to challenge in the UK courts in the future.

What does it mean for the EU referendum?

It's generally being seen as helpful to the cause of those wanting to leave, with the Daily Telegraph noting "anger among business groups who argue European courts are too powerful". On the other hand Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the ruling represented the "sort of basic right the EU gives to working people".

David Cameron was reportedly trying to negotiate a full opt-out from "social legislation" such as the working time directive, but the Telegraph says he is now pressing instead for a watered down "declaration that employment law is a national competence".

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