Any business in the European Market will be aware of last week’s European Court of Justice ruling on travel to work pay. This prominent Working Time Directive – enforcing the 48-hour working week – will impact any UK business operating on the continent employing staff with no fixed place of work.
Under the ruling, these workers – whether salespeople, tradesmen, carers or cleaners – will see their working day begin from the moment they start travelling to their first appointment.
Like any bill influencing employment terms, the Working Time Directive is attracting supporters and opposition in equal measures. But should the UK pass it as a ruling and what should our businesses and workforce expect?
“This ruling has understandably caught the attention of employers and workforces,” says Rob Dolbear, Managing Director of relocation specialist HCR. “While the employee must be paid fairly and enjoy fair working – and commuting – conditions, the business behind them might need to adjust working hours, budgets, workloads and shift patterns to pick up the bill.”
This isn’t to say UK businesses shouldn’t support workforces with their daily operating expenses, especially when a satellite office has closed leaving its staff as remote workers. But those companies facing the possibility of covering the commute cost of a mobile workforce might need to adapt to accommodate it.
It’s estimated that some 975,000 people in the UK are employed under these terms, some working up to four hours on top of their salaried hours to cover their patch.
“It’s not just about the initial expense of covering the time mobile staff spend making consecutive visits,” adds Rob. “It’s the cumulative expense of this non-chargeable time. It’s a fundamental change to the way our country does business at a time when mobile workforces are an efficient and cost-effective way to manage a national or global operation at a local level.
“Employees can work for geographically diverse businesses due to the flexibility of mobile working – and businesses can establish regional workforces at a fraction of the cost.”
For the mobile worker, the directive promises to bring more stability to employment terms. While the absence of a workplace means a more flexible work pattern, it can be an insecure time in which you can only clock on and off for actual client-facing appointments – somewhat unsustainable should your patch be a huge geographical expanse.
Regardless of the immediate impact of this ruling, it will in the long term prompt UK businesses to look at the shape of their operations and logistics of their mobile workforces. While individual employees could well benefit from a change in terms, what will be the impact on the business that pays their salary? How will this potential rise in operational cost be met? If businesses have to cut hours to compensate, will there actually be any benefit to workers at all?
“Like any major workforce legislation, the Working Time Directive doesn’t operate in isolation,” says Rob. “In order for businesses to meet this expense they will be looking at optimising their operations, which could lead to less hours offered, or a return to longer or more localised caseloads, which may not see a real difference to the profitability of the employee.
“The EU directive could be ground-breaking for UK employment law and needs to be taken seriously by workers and employers regardless of the outcome. It’s a change in mindset if not a change in working terms. And in any case it’s an opportunity to ratify our business processes while making sure our remote workforces are valued and recompensed for their working hours.”