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Europe’s highest court has ruled that the time a freelance employee without a fixed place of work spends travelling between their home and their first and last work assignments should be counted as ‘working time’ for the purpose of protecting worker’s safety.

The press reporting of the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) sparked panic amongst UK employers, fearing that their wage bills would spiral out of control if they had to pay staff for these journeys, however the ruling is not that clear cut.

“The court judgment relates to the calculation of working time under the Working Time Directive, as implemented in the UK under the Working Time Regulations Act 1998.  It does not affect the calculation of workers’ pay under the National Minimum Wage Regulations Act 1999, which sets out the minimum hourly rates of pay for workers in the UK,” Helen Murphie, employment partner at Royds Solicitors commented.

“It is for the UK Parliament to decide in the future whether to change the NMW regulations, which are currently very specific that travel time to work and home again is not working time for the purpose of calculating pay. The judgment made it very clear that it was not dealing with whether or not the workers should be paid for this time – just whether or not it counted as ‘working time’. It stated that any issues of pay are for the member countries to determine as they see fit,” Murphie concluded.

The court judgment is important as it enhances worker protection in relation to working time. It may have an effect on those workers who have not opted out of the 48 hour working week, and it may also affect the calculation of holiday and rest periods. However workers in the care and service industries who have no work base and are required to attend different client premises direct from their homes may benefit from the ruling in the long-run.