The Working Time Directive requires member States to take the measures necessary to ensure that every worker is entitled to a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period and, per each seven-day period, to a minimum uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours plus the 11 hours’ daily rest. The United Kingdom adopted a statutory instrument (Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) (SI 1998 n° 1833) to implement the Directive. But then, to help people understand the WTR, the Department of Trade and Industry published a set of guidelines that stated in Section 5 and in Section 6 that ‘employers must make sure that workers can take their rest, but are not required to make sure they do take their rest’.
The Commission considered that the guidelines endorse and encourage a practice of non-compliance with the requirements of the Directive. Consequently, it brought Article 226 EC proceedings against the United Kingdom.
The Court held in favor of the Commission. It held that the guidelines let it be understood by all that while they cannot prevent the rest periods from being taken by workers, the employers are not obliged (according to the Guidelines) to ensure that the workers actually exercise such a right. As a result, the Court held that the guidelines effectively render the rights granted in the Directive meaningless.
The judgment is an interesting and apparently innovative one because it shows how a member State can breach EC law by adopting legislation that is compatible with a directive on the one hand and then by adopting a measure that is ostensibly not legally binding, like a set of guidelines, that seems to go back on the rights granted by the implementing legislation. As a result, the behavior of the member State is not conducive to guaranteeing that the objectives of a Directive are met.
The Court issued a brief press release about the judgment.