For many people who face a gruelling morning commute, it can certainly feel like work. Spending an hour and a half on a train, bus, tube or in traffic can be frustrating and despairing. New EU regulations agree that this time could be as much work as being at work itself, with the European Court of Justice ruling that some commutes should be considered working time.
Initially, this ruling is set to affect only those who do not travel to one regular place of work. Which is bad news for those who struggle on the daily commute to the office but could prove to be even more significant for travelling workers, including many carers. For employers of those who do not have regular working destinations, such as care workers, they face the real possibility of being in breach of EU working time directives. This includes a goal of ensuring no employee is obliged to work for more than 48 hours per week. What this means for care workers is that they could be entitled to more pay or a reduction in hours, especially if they travel long distances between care jobs.
The judgement takes immediate effect and according to trade unions could bring significant benefits for care workers. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said the ruling was ‘bound to have a significant impact in the UK, particularly on home care workers’. He added: ‘Tens of thousands of home care workers are not even getting the minimum wage because their employers fail to pay them for the time they spend travelling between the homes of all the people they care for. Now, thanks to this case, they should also be paid when they are travelling to their first visit, and again back home from their last.’ However, the issue is more complicated. Some employment lawyers believe that the ruling will increase costs for employers, which in the already stretched world of care funding, could prove to be disastrous.
For some care providers, it may make the provision of care in more remote areas more difficult and even impossible. There is also the additional issue of a reduction in care hours for many residents and those who need care. The need to strike the right balance here is very important. The ruling has been brought about for good reason, with many carers in the UK not being paid sufficiently for travel time. One example of a care worker whose service included 32 hours but was paid for just 22 (with ten hours travelling not funded) meant she was technically being paid less than the legal minimum wage. Also, in June 2014, 3,000 care home staff shared a £600,000 payout after HMRC found they had not been paid for the travel time between visits. The ruling only affects carers who do not work in one place and only covers the time they take to travel to their first place of work (with other travel during the day already considered legally part of working time).
This will certainly mean that care home managers will need to carefully consider how they distribute care and may involve a rethink of planning certain services. It will certainly improve the working conditions of care workers who are required to travel large distances just to get to their varying workplaces each day.
However, it is very important that this does not cause an imbalance in the standard of care for isolated or harder to reach people. As the law comes into effect immediately, it will be very interesting to see how care managers are able to deal with the problem or whether further government assistance will be required.