Unison, a public service union, has welcomed the ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that time spent travelling to and from first and last appointments by workers, without a fixed office, can be regarded as working time.
The ECJ ruling follows a legal case in Spain concerning the security company Tyco.
The firm did not class the journey its staff made to their first appointment of the day, or from last one back to home, as “working time.”
UK businesses which employ workers, such as community nurses and home care workers, who have to travel to appointments throughout the day, will be affected by the judgment.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union in Britain, said the ruling was ‘bound to have a significant impact in the UK, particularly on home care workers.’
He added: “This case rightly demonstrates that mobile workers must be paid for all their working time. 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.
“Now thanks to this case, they should also be paid when they are travelling to their first visit, and again back home from their last.
“Having to factor more hours into workers’ timesheets will no doubt add to the pressure on employers with contracts in our public services. Ministers must now make plans for how this decision is to be funded, and ensure that social care employers can no longer get away with paying illegal wages.”
Trade unions believe the judgment, which takes effect immediately, could be a big boost for low-paid home care workers whose costs for commuting to their clients' homes are not covered.
Furthermore, the ECJ has suggested that for peripatetic workers, travelling is an integral part of being such a worker, so the place of work of that worker cannot be reduced to the physical areas of customers' premises.
The ECJ has stated: “The Court takes the view that the workers are at the employer's disposal for the time of the journeys. During those journeys, the workers act on the instructions of the employer, who may change the order of the customers or cancel or add an appointment.
“During the necessary travelling time - which generally cannot be shortened - the workers are therefore not able to use their time freely and pursue their own interests.”
Commenting on the ruling, Colin Angel, policy and campaigns director at United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) said: “The judgement will affect the interpretation of the UK safety legislation around working time and rest breaks. It does not, however, affect the definition of ‘working time’ for the UK’s National Minimum Wage Regulations. If it were to do so in the future, then there would be an appreciable increase in costs.
“The financial pressures on social care employers are well recognised and without these costs being met (largely by local authorities), the care provider market would become even more fragile than it currently is.”
Director for employment and skills at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Neil Carberry, added: “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.
“Given that this ruling extends working time, it again emphasises that the voluntary individual opt-out from working time rules is a vital part of ensuring the system works in the UK. We want to see the opt-out protected.”