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Which groups of workers are not covered by working time rules, or treated as a special case?

Some groups used to be completely exempt from all working time rights, and others currently miss out on some working time protection. The EU is gradually extending the scope of working time rights, and previously exempt groups are slowly getting full or partial protection:

  • Transport staff who are 'mobile', such as train drivers, do not get the same rights to breaks, but do benefit from the 48-hour average weekly limit, and must receive ‘adequate rest’. This also applies to rail staff whose work is linked to railway timetables and ensuring continuity of rail traffic, such as signal box operators. Most transport staff who work at a fixed location ('non-mobile' workers in legal jargon) have full protection.
  • Mobile air transport workers are covered instead by the Aviation Directive – a controversial new version of which has been proposed by the European Commission.
  • Seafarers are covered by a separate directive, and workers in river and lake transport are covered by the Inland Waterways Working Time Regulations. There are also special rules for sea fishermen. You should take further advice if you work in any of these industries.
  • Lorry and public transport drivers, i.e. those who must have LGV and PSV licences, were covered by the Road Transport Directive in May 2005. They are also covered by the tachograph rules on driving time. There are no opt-outs in this sector.
  • Off-shore workers are covered by the regulations, but the weekly working time limit is averaged over 52 weeks.
  • Domestic staff in private households are entitled to rest breaks and paid holidays, but have limited protection against working long hours.
  • Protection for junior doctors by the regulations has been normalised since August 2009.
  • Armed forces and the police are not covered.
  • Ambulance personnel, firefighters and prison staff are covered, although regulations are waived to deal with emergencies.
  • Those whose 'working time is not measured or pre-determined' are not covered. This includes top managers who are free to set their working hours, workers employed by other members of their family and some other unusual jobs such as ministers of religion. This exemption in the European Directive is also the basis for not counting many hours worked by white-collar staff

There are other groups which enjoy working time rights, but employers are given more flexibility in how to implement them. These include:

  • security guards, caretakers and similar jobs;
  • jobs which involve travelling long distances;
  • where the job ‘requires continuity of service or production’, such as hospitals, media, prisons, docks, airports, post and telecoms, civil protection, agriculture, and industries where work cannot be interrupted, such as the utilities;
  • jobs where there are seasonal rushes such as tourism and agriculture; and
  • shift workers in the process of changing shift.