The EU should prioritise fair regulations for military personnel in the Working Time Directive

Military personnel often work in tough and dangerous conditions: such demanding nature of military service can take a toll on the physical and mental well-being of personnel. Therefore, it is imperative to prioritize the safety and performance of these individuals by ensuring adequate working hours and ample rest time. However, due to the distinctive characteristics of military work, labour standards often impose restrictions that lead to prolonged work hours, insufficient rest, and, inevitably, significant health concerns.

To tackle these challenges and promote high productivity while safeguarding the physical and mental health of workers, the International Labour Organization has established various labour standards on working time at the international level. In the European Union (EU), the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 31) and the European Pillar of Social Rights (Principle 10) serve as the foundation for every worker’s rights, guaranteeing limitations on maximum working hours, daily and weekly rest periods, annual paid leave, and access to care services for parents and individuals with caregiving responsibilities.

Moreover, the Working Time Directive (WTD), which came into effect in 2004, compels Member States to uphold workers’ rights concerning limited working hours, daily and weekly rest periods, paid annual leave, and additional protections for night work. While labour legislation typically includes exceptions to these rights under certain circumstances, the unique nature of military service often results in extensive exclusions from these safeguards enshrined in legislation like the WTD. Although legislation aims to shield employees from excessive and unnecessary workplace hazards, wide-ranging limitations are often justified by labelling certain “essential” workers, often those in uniform, exempt from such protections. Nonetheless, recent case law from the European Court of Justice has demonstrated that workers should not be automatically excluded from these protections based solely on their employment sector.

While the armed forces inherently involve high-risk environments, military personnel are equally entitled to basic protections, just like any other worker. Excessive derogations from these rights can lead to avoidable and unnecessary physical and psychosocial illnesses, as well as a decline in job performance and attractiveness.

To address these concerns and advocate for the well-being of military personnel, EUROMIL recommends the implementation of clear and comprehensive working time regulations tailored specifically to the armed forces. These regulations should be negotiated through social dialogue with representatives of staff associations or military unions. EUROMIL emphasizes the importance of protecting military personnel from extended and irregular working hours and proposes that all working time, including on-call duty and emergency preparedness, be counted as working hours. Nonetheless, exceptions may apply to specific military activities, international military operations, and missions involving unique security conditions. It is important to note that these exceptions should still be implemented based on collective bargaining and agreements.

Furthermore, EUROMIL advocates for achieving a better balance between professional and family life for military personnel, including the development of childcare facilities within army establishments to support families. Additionally, annual leave is an entitlement for all armed forces members, accompanied by full pay allowances. EUROMIL suggests limited exemptions from the WTD and emphasizes the need for direct negotiation and consultation with representative bodies of military personnel in each state to ensure effective communication and respect for their rights and entitlements.

In conclusion, military personnel, as Workers in Uniform, deserve equal rights and protections akin to any other worker. Their health and safety in the workplace must be safeguarded. Effective monitoring of the application of the Working Time Directive for military personnel is crucial, ensuring they receive adequate rest and reasonable working hours. Such measures will not only preserve their well-being but also enhance their performance and productivity.

Both the EU and Member States should recognize the unique circumstances faced by military personnel and work collaboratively to implement fair and just regulations that protect their rights: no worker should be banned from social rights.

In relation to the Working Time Directive, EUROMIL has actively addressed this issue by producing a position paper on the topic (link). Additionally, EUROMIL has participated in a collaborative project with EuroCOP and EPSU, titled “Strengthening and Defending Trade Union Rights in the Public Sector.” This project specifically examined the impact of the exclusionary clause on certain workers within the public sector (link).

This article is part of EUROMIL’s European Elections 2024 project.

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