ECJ: “Stand-by time is working time”

Two days ago February 21th 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) released its ruling on case C-518/15, concerning stand-by at home.

Why a fireman case in Belgium…

Under local regulation, volunteer firefighter Rudy Matzak in Nivelles -Bruxelles- had to reside in a place within 8 minutes of his fire station with stand-by duty requiring to remain in that time frame radius and be “particularly vigilant” to remain reachable to leave immediately when called.

  • 1 August 1980, Mr Matzak entered service.
  • 16 December 2009, initial judicial proceedings by Mr Matzak seeking financial compensation over his stand-by services.
  • 14 September 2015, request for a preliminary ruling (under Article 267 TFEU) from the cour du travail de Bruxelles (Higher Labour Court)
  • 28 September 2015, inquiry received at the ECJ…

…on the interpretation of “work related definitions” (Article 2) and “continuity of service” (Article 17(3)(c)(iii) of Directive 2003/88/EC of the European Parliament).

It turns out that, finally, the Court ruled:

Stand-by time spent at home with the duty to respond to calls from his employer within 8 minutes, very significantly restricting the opportunities for other activities, must be regarded as ‘working time’ “.

…may pique aviation stakeholders’ interest

Since this judgement relates to the EU working time directive, it is worth considering our own EASA OPS-FTL (Commission Regulation (EU) No 83/2014):

The maximum annual working time, including some elements of stand-by for duty assignment as determined by the applicable law, shall be 2000 hours in which the block flying time shall be limited to 900 hours._ORO.FTL.210

What can be transposed of the Judgement is that stand-by at home when crews are not free to leave and are required to react almost immediately (as if they were at the company’s premises), should be counted as working time towards the 2000hr/year envelope.

It could arguably be implied that, according to the judgement, standing-by at home in terms of constraints is similar to standing-by at the airport (ORO.FTL.225) for crewmembers, and could (should?) thus be treated the same way – even though the objective of the working directive and the FTLs are different – the former being social and the latter being dubbed as “safety”.

Now, when to determine time constraints are the same? If a reaction period of 8 minutes is considered by the ECJ as being equivalent to stand-by at company premises, up to what duration can that line be drawn for pilots?

Gentlemen, get ready to cue in your payment claims.

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