Working Time Regulations

Since 1998 there has been UK legislation on working time, driven by the European Working Time Directive. The Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1988 No.1833) are classed as health and safety legislation.

The regulations give workers and employees a statutory right to paid holidays.

The regulations also allow for rest breaks and place some limits on how many hours of work a person can be required to do in a week; however, the provisions on working time are subject to opt-outs.

Maximum working week

In outline, the regulations state that the maximum working week should be no more that 48 hours long. This can be averaged over a reference period of 17 weeks, or in some cases 26 weeks. The reference period can be extended to 12 months if there is a collective agreement (with BECTU for example) covering working time.

That said, the implementation of the regulations in the UK is subject to an opt-out granted to the UK by the European Community which allows individuals to sign away their rights to be covered by the maximum 48 limit.

BECTU has campaigned since 1998 to do away with the individual opt-out.

What counts as working time?

It is important to remember that under the WTR, working time is the time when you are at the disposal of your employer and does not include time taken to travel to work; nor does it include time taken for mealbreaks . So for most people the 48 hours immediately becomes 53, unless your union has reached an agreement with your employer.

The WTR apply to workers, and not just employees, which is important in the industries where we organise given their heavy dependence on freelance labour.

If you are unsure whether you are a worker, employee or an undertaking then go to our Contracts page for further information. The regulations do not apply if you are an undertaking.

If you are a BECTU member and you have a query about how the Working Tme Regulations affect you, contact your branch or full-time official direct. Alternatively, you make initial contact by emailing BECTU head office. Please provide your branch and membership number. 

Last page update 1 August 2017