Tuesday 15 October 2019

Clampdown on unpaid overtime after major court ruling

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

John Mulligan and Anne-Marie Walsh

Workers have gained ammunition in disputes with employers over their working hours following a major European Court of Justice ruling.

The court's decision obliges employers to keep records of staff hours and has raised hopes it will end the widespread practice of unpaid overtime.

Although Irish employers are already legally obliged to keep these records, the ruling is expected to pile pressure on those who fail to do so.

In a case taken by a Spanish union against a unit of Deutsche Bank, the European Court of Justice stressed EU member states must require employers to have systems in place that enable the duration of time worked each day by employees to be recorded.

The court has effectively thrown down a gauntlet to member states and employers to adhere to the EU working time directive or face the consequences.

It said that without proper records of time worked, it's "excessively difficult, if not impossible in practice, for workers to ensure that their rights are complied with".

The EU Confederation was optimistic the ruling should end the widespread practice of unpaid overtime.

"Workers can't afford to give their time to employers for free. Member states will need to work with employers and unions to review national laws and practices and ensure that all working time is paid and workers are properly compensated when they put in over time," said ETUC confederal secretary Esther Lynch.

She said the case taken at the European Court was in the banking sector, but unpaid overtime is an unwelcome development in nearly all sectors and jobs.

"It takes many forms, with unwritten rules about what work is not counted. It's workers feeling pressured to stay late, come in early, work through lunch, take work home and be on email out of hours."

The ruling may assist workers when taking cases against employers under working time and other employment rights legislation.

However, it is unclear if Irish authorities will pour any further resources into enforcing the maintenance of proper 'clock in' or 'clock out' records. This might include increasing Workplace Relations Commission inspections.

A spokesperson at the Department of Business said any implications for the Workplace Relations Commission as a result of the ruling will be "carefully considered".

And a spokesperson at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said it will examine the European Court of Justice ruling in detail and determine whether any amendments to national law will be necessary.

A spokesperson for employer group Ibec said Ireland already has very rigorous record keeping regulations under the Organisation of Working Time Act.

An ISME spokesman said the requirement for working time to be recorded has been established in Irish employment legislation since 1997.

Employment law solicitor Richard Grogan said under Irish legislation, employers must keep records of hours worked and breaks, but insisted that the "vast majority" don't.

"We've never had a culture of compliance with the Organisation of Working Time Act in Ireland," he added. "In fact, in Ireland, we have a culture of non-compliance."

Under the law, employers can't make employees work more than an average of 48 hours a week on average, typically over a four-month period.

Irish Independent

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