INVENTIO – INVESTITIO – INNOVATIO
Will the introduction of a four-day working week be compulsory?
Employers have barely recovered from the latest amendments to the Labour Code, but they may soon face new challenges. In March, the Court of Justice of the European Union delivered a ruling that could have a major impact on the lives of both employees and employers.
How do daily and weekly rest periods differ?
Even the Constitution states that everyone has the right to daily and weekly rest periods. The first category, the daily rest period, is intended to protect the health of the worker and possibly also to avoid burnout. As a general rule, this should last at least 11 hours a day.
The weekly rest period, on the other hand, is regulated by the Labour Code in calendar days, i.e. in periods from 0 – 24 hours, and must be granted 2 days per week.
The previous regulation of the Labour Code and decisions of the Constitutional Court have already established an interpretation that daily and weekly rest periods belong to a separate legal category, so they must be treated separately and cannot be merged. However, since the last amendment of Article 104 of the Labour Code, Hungarian labour law allows that if the employer does not allocate working time for the following day or does not order extraordinary working time, the employer is not obliged to grant daily rest periods to their employees.
This situation could be changed by the recent ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The separation of daily and weekly rest periods
A case was brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union by the Miskolc General Court in relation to a train driver who challenged that MÁV-START did not grant him his daily rest period before his weekly rest period. In its preliminary rulings on the case, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that daily and weekly rest periods must be clearly separated and cannot be merged, so that even if a driver does not work after his daily rest period, the daily rest period cannot be merged into his rest day, but is added to it.
The ruling also states that although Hungarian legislation is more favourable than the relevant EU Directive, employers cannot deprive employees of other rights, in particular the right to daily rest.
Thus, at the moment, the Hungarian legislation and the Court of Justice of the European Union’s ruling are contradictory.
What changes could the Court of Justice of the European Union ruling bring?
The ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the case above is, of course, currently applicable to the specific case, and in addition the facts of this case involved a rather specific working time framework, so it does not and cannot have an immediate and general impact on the existing working time legislation.
Nevertheless, the decision results in the legislator being forced to reconsider the legal regulations. If the legal environment remains as it is, it is also possible that, in order to avoid Friday rest periods overlapping with weekend rest days, working hours could be limited to end no later than 13:00 on Fridays.
This would result in a quasi-four-day working week, which some employers have already started to test, but there are some areas of work where such a solution would be unfeasible.
Is there another way?
Fortunately, this is not the only way forward – there are many directions that can be taken to resolve the situation.
One solution could be to change the concept of the working day. Currently, a working day is a calendar day, so it lasts from 0 to 24 hours. However, there are already special cases, such as the case of multi-shift workers, where the working day can be defined as a continuous 24-hour period. From here, it would be only one step to apply this rule to all employees.
Another solution could be to change the definition of rest periods and rest days. If the law did not link the rest day to calendar days, but defined it as 24 hours, there would be no problem, because if working hours last until 17:00 on Friday and start at 8:00 on Monday, the mandatory 11+48 hours would be easily covered.
At the moment, the only thing that can be recorded is that the decision of the European Court of Justice forced the Hungarian legislator to act: if it wishes to maintain the current practice with regard to daily and weekly rest days, then the current regulations must be amended.
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