The EWTD (European Working Time Directive) is an EU initiative to prevent employers from requiring their workforce to work excessively long hours, with implications for health and safety. The UK version of the EWTD is also known as the WTR (Working Time Regulations).
The EWTD requires the working week to be an average of 48 hours, with further rights relating to break periods and holiday allowance, such as:
It has applied to consultants and career grade staff since October 1998.
Although doctors are now covered by the EWTD, it is still possible for doctors to work longer hours by signing an opt-out clause.
Given that the EWTD aims to improve health and safety, they ensure that a number of conditions must be met if the opt-out is to remain part of the legislation: any opt-out must be truly voluntary, with no undue pressure or coercion exerted on doctors to work outside the directive’s hours and rest requirements. Further, an opt-out should neither be a necessity for a post nor form part of any contract.
All consultants are covered by these entitlements, and employers have a legal obligation to implement them – strict penalties are imposed by the Health and Safety Executive for non-implementation.
The WTR, which implements the EWTD in law, came into force on 1 October 1998, with full compliance by 2009. These safeguards are particularly relevant to workers in the health service:
The regulations allow employers to exclude the provisions in relation to length of night work, daily rest, weekly rest and rest breaks if compensatory rest is provided. This means that where rest is delayed or interrupted by work, compensatory rest must be granted.
It is not possible to opt out of the rest requirements, so doctors still need to ensure they take the necessary breaks, and their employer still needs to monitor the hours they work.
For junior doctors, it means:
In addition, to the above requirements junior doctors are also protected by the safety and rest requirements of either the 2002 or 2016 junior doctor contract, whichever they may be employed under.
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bma.org.uk, 2022. Doctors and the European Working Time Directive. [online] The British Medical Association is the trade union and professional body for doctors in the UK. Available at:
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