The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has again had to consider to what extent a firefighter’s standby time should be considered working time under the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) (WTD), having had to consider a similar question just a couple of months ago.
The Claimant in the present case was a firefighter employed by Dublin City Council. Under his contract of employment, he was required to be on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week (except during periods of annual leave). During this time, he could be called out at any point and would be required to attend the fire station in no less than 10 minutes. However, he was only required to accept at least 75% of these callouts and there were no repercussions if he did not arrive at the fire station within the prescribed 10-minute period (albeit he would not be paid).
The Claimant also worked as a self-employed taxi driver.
The Claimant argued that his extensive standby hours prevented him from dedicating himself fully to this commitment, along with his family and social life, as well as to his activities as a taxi driver. He argued that the hours he spent on standby should be classified as working time and that Dublin City Council was therefore breaching the rules on daily and weekly rest, as well as weekly working time under the WTD and Irish legislation.
Dublin City Council pointed to the fact that the firefighters were not required to remain in a specific place during standby hours and that there would be no repercussions for those who did not arrive at the station within 10 minutes. For these reasons, they argued that the standby time should not be classified as working time.
In its judgment, the ECJ clarified that “working time” within the meaning of the WTD included any standby or “on-call” time during which”the constraints imposed on the worker…affect, objectively and very significantly, the possibility for the [worker] freely to manage the time during which his or her professional services are not required and to pursue his or her own interests“. In this case, the ECJ held that the firefighter’s ability to carry out another professional activity (as a taxi driver) and the absence of obligation to participate in the entirety of the callouts meant that the Claimant’s standby time should not be classified as working time.
This case provides further clarification on what will be considered working time under the WTD and can be contrasted with the Czech firefighter case that came before the ECJ recently. Our analysis of that case can be found here. In brief, a 30-minute break with a requirement to respond to call outs within two minutes was found to be working time under the WTD. However, that case can be distinguished on the basis that there were restrictions on where the firefighter could spend his standby time. Such geographical and other restrictions clearly impose constraints on the ability of workers to freely manage their time and pursue other interests, which is now established to be key in determining what will constitute working time.