Employees and their entitlement to Rest Periods in Employment
5 min read
Authors: Ann Bugeja & Christine Borg Millo
Employees are entitled to minimum periods of both daily rest and weekly rest; these are two separate and independent rights for all employees. This has been confirmed in the Hungarian case C477/21, under the names of IH – v – MÁV-START Vasúti Személyszállító Zrt., decided on the 2nd of March, 2023, and decided by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Facts of the Case
The facts were as follows; A train driver was employed by MAV-START, which is the Hungarian national railway company. His employment consisted in part of the monthly working time roster with no weekly rest days. However, he was allocated a weekly rest period, based on a weekly reference period instead.
The employee stated that he was entitled to his daily rest period, of at least 11 consecutive hours, based on the EU Working Time Directive (the Directive), even when this daily rest came before or after his weekly rest period, of after his period of leave. This right was declined by his employer, who argued that there existed a collective agreement for employees in this sector, who were granted a minimum weekly rest period of at least forty-two (42) hours; and this exceeded the minimum weekly rest period that the Directive provided; that is, of twentyfour (24) hours per week. Hence, the employer argued that his employee, by being granted forty-two (42) hours of weekly rest, was not being disadvantaged in any manner. The reasoning of the employer, however, was found to be ill founded by the Court.
The question which arose was essentially: Does daily rest form part of the weekly rest period, or else is the daily rest period interpreted as being a concept separate from the weekly rest period?
And more specifically, after the minimum daily rest period of eleven (11) hours, can the minimum weekly rest period, of twenty-four (24) hours, be also granted to the employee?
Explanation by the Court and the Outcome of the Ruling
In this preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice, the Court confirmed that, as primary rights of employees, daily rest periods and weekly rest periods are two independent and distinct rights that employees are BOTH entitled to.
In the ruling, the Court explained that:
“The Directive provides the right to daily rest and the right to weekly rest in two different provisions, namely, in Articles 3 and 5 respectively. That indicates that they are two autonomous rights which…pursue different objectives, consisting, for the daily rest period, in enabling the worker to remove himself or herself from his or her working environment for a specific number of hours which must not only be consecutive but must also directly follow a period of work and, in the case of the weekly rest period, in allowing the worker to rest during each seven-day period”.
By this reasoning, employees must be guaranteed the actual enjoyment of each of those rights independently of each other, because:
- Daily rest allows the employee to remove himself/herself from their working environment for a number of hours; to be consecutive and directly following a period of time of working hours; and
- Weekly rest allows an employee to rest during a seven (7) day period, apart from the daily rest period.
Employees must always be guaranteed the actual enjoyment of both these rights, in a separate manner. Therefore, daily rest shall be enjoyed by the employee, regardless of the weekly rest which can be enjoyed prior to or following the daily rest period. Further, the total daily rest period must be granted irrespective of the length of the weekly rest period.
“the daily rest period provided for in Article 3 of that Directive does not form part of the weekly rest period referred to in Article 5 of that Directive, but is additional to it.”
The Maltese scenario
Locally, minimum periods of daily rest and weekly rest are regulated by the Organisation of Working Time Regulations, which as a National Standard Order, lays down the minimum requirements of the organisation of working time as per the EU Working Time Directive.
The first rule is that every employee in Malta is entitled to a minimum daily rest of eleven (11) continuous hours per day, (per 24-hour period) of a normal working day for that employee. During that working day, the employee is moreover, entitled to a rest break of an uninterrupted period of not less than 15 minutes (where they are entitled to spend away from their workstation or place of work, in the case that their working day is longer than 6 hours.
Secondly, besides the daily rest period and rest break during work, the employee is also entitled to a minimum uninterrupted weekly rest period of twenty-four (24) hours, for each seven (7) day period, during that week or that time when the employee works for the employer.
It is crucial that employees are aware and understand their rights regarding daily and weekly rest periods which are stipulated in the law, so as not to be unjustly prejudiced by their employer, and thus end up unentitled to their own personal time.