In the past few days, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Working Time Directive extends to time taken for travel to work, once again interpreting EU legislation to give effect to the rights of workers.
It is important that we recognise that the European Union can be a strong ally in our fight to ensure effective protection of workers’ rights. The Court has outlined that where workers have no fixed place of work, which affects many categories of workers including salespeople, care workers, energy company workers and repairmen and women, their travel time must be taken into account as work. This is essential in guaranteeing that workers are not taken advantage of purely because of the nature of their work.
The Court itself stated that to consider travel time as falling outside of working time would distort the very concept of working time and “jeopardise the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers”. This approach looks at a much wider picture than the simple letter of the law, including referring to the Treaty itself, which sets out the rights of working people.
Once again, the institutions of the European Union have proven that they are not blind to the needs of workers. While there has been controversy over the issues of free movement of workers, undercutting prices and tax issues, the institutions have taken steps to mitigate these problems, including efforts towards collective rights across borders, increased competition in the market allowing for better quality and prices, the ability to access the labour market in other countries without fear of discrimination, to name just a few. None of these could have been achieved without European level intervention.
The TUC has hit the headlines this week over its stance on the EU. I can well understand the fears of those who wish to limit European integration, however we should understand that in an increasingly globalised world, we need to pull together. It is cases like the Working Time Directive which prove the importance of continued membership of the EU.
The best way for us to ensure that we continue our fight for workers across Europe is not to blame individual institutions and opt-out, but instead play a full and supportive role in the European Union.