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Exceptional exceptions: the case of the Working Time Directive

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The application of the Working Time Directive 2003/88 has caused serious issues in those sectors needing 24 hour a day/7 day a week cover (‘24/7’). Employers have explored whether they can take advantage of the opt-out from the 48 hour working week in Article 22 or the range of derogations in the Directive. Of particular interest, however, is the use of the exceptions. These exceptions apply, for example, ‘where characteristics peculiar to certain specific public service activities, such as the armed forces or the police, or to certain specific activities in the civil protection services inevitably conflict’ with the WTD. The interpretation of the provisions on exceptions has led to a number of important cases, cases which will be considered in the article. I wish to argue that, consistent with its earlier approach, the Court has maintained that the WTD will, in principle, apply to workers, even in those sectors requiring 24/7 cover. With this as its starting premise, the Court has then set the bar high for when it will accept that any of the exceptions will apply. The Court has even indicated, in the Slovene Army case, that the Directive will apply to the military, much to the consternation of some Member States, albeit developing a new carve out for ‘military commitment’ activities. The Court also pays close attention to the text of the exceptions to ensure that employers are not misusing them. I will argue that the exceptions are indeed exceptional.



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European Labour Law Journal

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Economic and Social Research Council (ES/N015436/1)