The European Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC)

The European Working Time Directive (EWTD), 2003/88/EC, was designed for the worker’s protection by limiting the individual working hours per week and by setting minimum standards for rest time and for the annual leave. The EWTD is applied EU-wide and regulates many different working environments, including these of doctors. The main features of the Directive, and its advantages and disadvantages, will be outlined. Furthermore, the consequences for doctors in training will be discussed.


What are the EWTD’s provisions for individual working hours and what rest requirements are specified?

  • The weekly working time is limited to 48 hours on average, calculated over 26 weeks and including any overtime
  • The minimum daily rest period is set to eleven consecutive hours in every 24 hours
  • If a worker is on duty for more than six hours, she/he is entitled to a break of twenty minutes
  • Additionally to the day’s rest, a worker has the right to 24 uninterrupted hours of rest period every week
  • There is a right to a paid annual leave of at least four weeks per year
  • Extra protection applies to night work (there are hourly limits to work-time and the performance of heavy and dangerous work, a right to free health assessments and in certain situations there is the possibility to transfer to day work)


What does this mean for doctors?

Traditionally, young doctors work much more than the regular 48 hours a week and do only have few rest periods. This Directive intended to protect young doctors from the dangers of overtime and ensures adequate rest periods. Studies have proven that following the 48-hours-a-week rule reduces the chance of making mistakes. Nonetheless, there is a possibility to opt-out from this Directive. Doctors can extend their working-hours, but they cannot reduce the rest periods. However, the opt-out can be dangerous because it can be used for work exploitation. Therefore, an opt-out should be considered carefully.


Revision of the Directive

After the negotiations of the social partners failed at the end of 2012, the European Commission is currently preparing a proposal for a revision of the Directive.