light of a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), MEPs from
Renew Europe submitted questions for written
answer to the European Commission regarding the
applicability of the Matzak judgment.
Thyssen, the outgoing Commissioner, responded to the questions:
- whether the Commission considers
that the CJEU’s interpretation could be extended to all cases of (stand-by) voluntary
- whether the Commission
considers that this interpretation sets a precedent which could be detrimental
for civil security services.
position on the matter was clear. The judgement in the Matzak case reflected
the individual circumstances of Mr Matzak. In each situation, it must be
determined whether an actual ‘worker’ is involved. The CJEU considered that the
particular circumstances of Mr Matzak meant that the conditions to qualify as a
‘worker’ were met. However, this judgment does not imply that each and every
voluntary worker in the EU automatically qualifies as a ‘worker’.
applicable, the Working Time Directive provides for flexibility and ensures that
the safety and health of workers, such as firefighters, is protected. The CJEU
ruling does not disadvantage Member States, because there is a certain amount
of flexibility in its application; for example, Member States can derogate from
the rules on daily and weekly rest periods, provided that equivalent
compensatory rest periods are granted. Member States may also introduce
derogations which are beneficial to specific groups, such as volunteer services.
dispute in the Matzak case revolved around whether stand-by time at home should
be regarded as working time. Mr Matzak is a voluntary firefighter and also employed
in a private company. He took the city of Nivelles to court to claim compensation
for his volunteer firefighter services and the time spent on-call at home. The action
was brought before the Cour du travail de Bruxelles (Brussels Higher Labour
Court), which then decided to ask the CJEU whether stand-by time at home falls
within the definition of ‘working time’ as specified within Directive 2003/88/EC and whether the Directive prevents Member State from maintaining or adopting a
less restrictive definition of ‘working time’.
Stand-by time at home can be ‘working time’
its judgment of 21
February 2018 (C-518/15), the CJEU ruled that the
stand-by time which a worker spends at home with the duty to respond to an
employer’s call within eight minutes is to be regarded as ‘working time’. The CJEU
has already dealt with the distinction between working time and stand-by time.
In its decision, the European Court of Justice thus confirmed its position on
the classification of stand-by time as ‘working time’ with further
clarification. The determining factor for classifying stand-by time as ‘working
time’ is that a worker is obliged to be physically at a location determined by
the employer which allows the worker to be available within the shortest
judgement has now clarified that it is irrelevant whether this location is the
actual workplace or the worker’s home. The CJEU made their decision based on
the fact that the obligation to be physically present at a place determined by
the employer and the requirement to be present at the workplace within a short
period of time significantly restrict the possibility of carrying out other
Definition of ‘working time’ and ‘worker’ under EU law
CJEU ruled that, with regard to certain categories, Member States may not
derogate from all obligations arising from the Working Time Directive, in
particular the concepts of ‘working time’ and ‘rest periods’. In addition, the
Directive does not permit Member States to maintain or adopt a less restrictive
definition of ‘working time’ than that laid down in the Directive. The same
applies to the concept of worker, which has an autonomous meaning under EU law.
More favourable working hours and rest periods for workers may be set
Member States are free to lay down provisions in their national legislation which
provide for more favourable working time and rest periods for workers than
those laid down in the Directive. Furthermore, the Directive does not address
the issue of remuneration, since this aspect is outside the competence of the
Union. Thus, Member States could specify in their national law that a worker’s remuneration
for ‘working time’ differs from that for a ‘rest period’ to such an extent that
no remuneration is paid for the latter.
Stand-by time confirmed as working time in the Matzak case
Court found that Matzak’s ability to pursue his personal and social interests
during his stand-by time was restricted. In light of these constraints, Matzak’s
situation differs from that of a worker who, during stand-by duty, only needs
to make sure that they can be contacted by their employer.