Mobile workers – a cost to business?

The travels and travails of the mobile worker

Not that we’re into blowing our own trumpet, but here’s another example of Simplify the Law’s prescience.

Another ECJ decision (and if you were paying attention earlier this week you’ll remember what ECJ stands for) a fortnight or so ago confirms the Advocate General’s opinion that the time spent by mobile workers going to and from their first and last appointments of the day is to be treated as working time.

Pub quiz essentials: the legal procedure digression

The Advocate General (A-G) is a shadowy figure that we’ve come across before. But we haven’t explained why he (or she) is such an important figure in the ECJ. Well, it’s time to bust the myth. It’s not a person.

It’s actually a number of people. Nine of them, in fact, appointed by the member states of the EU. Six come automatically from the six biggest member states – guess which – a bit like some countries have permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The remaining three are rotated in alphabetical order among the other states. Don’t ask us to explain that…

An A-G’s opinion is required only when the ECJ decides there’s a point of general European law to be decided. This is actually a fairly recent development. In former times, all cases had an A-G’s opinion. But then, it has to be said, in former times the passage of a case through the ECJ could be measured in years. Yes, years.

Unlike the court, the A-G reaches its view on its own; and as a result it’s usually a fuller and deeper analysis of the issues, before the court reaches judgment on the case. However, the A-G’s opinion isn’t binding on the court, and the court has been known either not to follow the A-G, or to reach the same conclusion but for different reasons.

Back to the point.

The mobile worker decision

We think this ruling is fair enough. If someone has to drive 100 miles to their first appointment, it’s not unreasonable for them to consider that part of their working day. It’s not the same as commuting. And that’s what the ECJ decided. We could have told you that. In fact – we did.

This could have a significant impact. It could have a big effect on either productivity, or employment costs, or even both, for those businesses who depend on remote mobile workers to travel between clients without an office base. Fewer appointments per week, perhaps; a salary implication for agreeing to opt out of the maximum working week – both of those could easily happen.Employers are going to have to work smarter – and get their staff to do the same – to absorb the financial effects of this.

And don’t forget the impact it could have on those people (for example, in the care sector) whose working time would now have to be counted to include travel time, so that their rates of pay could drop below the minimum wage.

This is stuff you need to get your head around.

And here’s where you can do so.

Find out more about working time

We love being proved right.

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