EU members states in disarray over weekly rest

The EU advocate general has recently published an opinion on whether or not a regular weekly rest can be taken in a vehicle.  The case involves interpretation of EU Regulation 561/2006.  A recent study indicated that of 24 member states, in 19 member states drivers are not allowed to spend their regular weekly rest inside their vehicles, in 8 member states drivers are allowed to do so and surprising in 3 of the member states surveyed both answers applied.

A regular weekly rest period is a period of rest of at least 45 hours, whereas a reduced weekly rest period is one of that is at least a minimum of 24 consecutive hours.  In any two consecutive weeks a driver shall take at least two regular weekly rest periods or one regular weekly rest period and one reduced weekly rest period.  If he chooses the latter then the reduction shall be compensated by an equivalent period of rest taken en bloc before the end of the third week following the week in question.

A Belgian haulage firm  brought the question before the advocate general for him to give an opinion on whether articles 8(6) and 8(8) of the Regulation must be interpreted as meaning that a regular weekly rest period may not be spent inside the vehicle.  If this was the case, then the applicants wanted to know if this was compatible with Article 49 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which states that no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute an offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed.  The applicant’s argument was that Article 4(g) of the Regulation states that rest means any uninterrupted period during which the driver may freely dispose of his time.  If a driver may not take a regular weekly rest in his vehicle, then this limits the means by which,  when he is at rest, he can freely dispose of his time.

The advocate general looked towards the wording of the Regulation and the purpose behind the wording of the Regulation.  When the European Parliament had first debated the new regulations to allow weekly rest periods to be spent in a vehicle, doing so would , they considered, result in a deterioration of drivers’ working conditions, particularly regarding inadequate hygiene.  The inclusion of only daily and reduced weekly rest periods, which could be spent in the vehicle, meant that the European Union legislature had intended to exclude regular weekly rest periods from the scope of Article 8(8).

The advocate general, having reviewed all the evidence, has proposed that the European Court should state that Article 8(6) and 8(8) should be interpreted as meaning that a driver may not take a regular weekly rest period inside the vehicle.   If his advice is followed then there should be harmonisation across the EU on how Article 8 is interpreted.

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