European Court Judgement

Earlier this week the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a court ruling on the subject of Working Time in connection with the Belgian Fire Service and their version of the On-Call/Retained firefighting duty system that is in operation in the UK.

In short, a Belgian firefighter argued through the courts that ‘stand-by time’ should be classed as ‘working time’, and therefore a different hourly payment should be made to him retrospectively.

As you will see from the press release, the Court clarified that in its view, stand-by time which a worker is required to spend at home with the duty to respond to calls from his employer within eight minutes, significantly restricts the opportunities to carry out other activities and must therefore be regarded as ‘working time’, and therefore the court ruled in the complainant’s favour.

Our initial view is that there are subtle differences between the arrangements in the UK compared with the circumstances of the legal case. For example, On-Call/Retained staff are not required to be in a specific location when on-call, but rather within response time and/or geographical catchment area to the appropriate fire station, and as such are free to use their time as they see fit. Such a distinction can have a major impact as to whether this court ruling has a legal impact on how the On-Call/Retained system functions legally in the UK.

Notwithstanding this, we will continue to monitor the case and our legal advice and liaise with other stakeholders to ensure that we are all working together to protect the right of our members and the viability of the Retained Duty System.

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