Brussels, 20 November 2013
Working time: Commission refers Greece to Court for not respecting EU rules in public health services
The European Commission has decided to refer Greece to the EU's Court of Justice for not complying with the EU rules on limits to working time for doctors in public health services. In particular, Greece fails to ensure that these doctors work no more than 48 hours per week on average, including any overtime.
In practice, doctors working in public hospitals and health centres in Greece often have to work a minimum average of 64 hours per week and over 90 hours in some cases, with no legal maximum limit. There is no legal ceiling to how many continuous hours they can be required to work at the workplace, and they often have to work without adequate intervals for rest or sleep.
The Commission considers this situation a serious infringement of the EU's Working Time Directive, endangering not only doctors' health and safety but also their patients as over-tired doctors risk of making mistakes
The Commission became aware of the infringement after receiving numerous complaints from doctors, and already requested Greece to take the necessary measures to ensure that national law and the practice of public authorities comply with the Directive (see IP/11/1121). However, no concrete progress towards compliance has yet been made.
Under the Working Time Directive, workers are entitled on health and safety grounds to a maximum limit to their working time. This may not exceed 48 hours per week on average, including any overtime. Workers are also entitled to a minimum of 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest per day, and a minimum additional uninterrupted weekly rest of 24 hours. There is some flexibility to postpone minimum rests for justified reasons, but only provided the worker can still take all the missed rest hours soon afterwards.
Employed doctors have at all times been covered by the Working Time Directive. However, for doctors in training, the limit to working time was phased in gradually over the period 2000-2009. Since 1 August 2009, the 48-hour limit applies to doctors in training (in a small number of Member States, not including Greece, a transitional limit of 52 hours continued to apply till 31 July 2011). The Directive’s rules on minimum rest periods have applied in full to doctors in training in all EU Member States since 1 August 2004.
The so-called ‘opt-out’, which allows working longer than 48 hours on average if the worker freely consents, is not relevant here, as Greece does not use this provision. In any event, the hours which these doctors are working are so long that they exceed what could be permitted under the 'opt-out'. Moreover, the Directive does not allow any ‘opt-out’ from the minimum rest requirements.
For more information
On the general infringement procedure: MEMO/12/12
On the November infringement package decisions: MEMO/13/1005
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