A legal ruling that time spent travelling to and from jobs should, in some cases, be regarded as work will have excited staff and terrified employers in equal measures this month.
Until now, those employing mobile workers who had to travel to get to or from their first or last appointment of the day were not required to count that time as work.
However, earlier this month, the European Court of Justice judgement ruled those without a fixed or habitual office should consider the time they spend travelling between their homes and the premises of their first and last jobs as part of their hours for the day.
The ruling relates to the Working Time Directive – the European initiative which caps the working week at 48 hours.
The headlines caught my eye – but my employment lawyers tell me it isn’t going to have as big an impact as some may fear.
It has been reported that time spent travelling to and from work has to count as working time. That is true, but only for a very specific part of the work force.
This is only going to affect people who do not have regular places of work, such as in the care sector, or travelling salesmen.
Importantly it does not affect the vast majority of people who commute from home to a regular workplace on a daily basis.
It will not even affect those people who have a regular workplace on the occasional day they spend away from their normal workplace at a meeting, conference, or site visit.
It will affect those working the residential nursing sector, for instance.
If they travel from their own home to each appointment, and then from the last appointment back to their home, then they are now treated as having worked from the moment they leave their house until the moment they return.
It is important to note that this decision does not affect the pay that an employee is entitled to receive during these travelling hours. The court has made it very clear that is a different matter. This decision is only about length of working hours.
The national minimum wage legislation regulates rates of pay for various tasks and its definition of working time is unaffected by this decision.
Unwelcome rent caps
Since coming to power in 2007, The SNP has sought to deliver a fairer society in Scotland – despite headwinds from Westminster. By and large I think they have done well and all the opinion polls appear to bear this out.
However they are not perfect and will make mistakes. I hope it is not too late to persuade them that they will be making a monumental error of they are daft enough to implement the recently floated proposals to reintroduce rent controls in the private leasing sector.
I wholeheartedly support any effort to improve standards within the private rented sector – but any legislation should be proportionate, protecting the interests of both landlords and tenants.
I believe that an introduction of rent controls will deter investment in the sector and curtail much needed housing. Would building more social housing not be a better and more sustainable solution?
The popular perception of landlords being Rigsby-type characters could not be further from the truth in my experience.
Most are ordinary people, who in most cases have one rental property which they’ve either bought, inherited or kept when a couple have decided to live together.
Also, in Aberdeen particularly, many properties remain the main home of the landlord, who may be working abroad in the oil industry. Most landlords still have a mortgage to pay and unfortunately whilst the Scottish Government appear able to cap the rental they receive, their lender will not reduce their mortgage repayments.
It seems a shame that the Scottish Government would seek to penalise these hardworking landlords in the private rented sector for the failures of successive administrations over a number of decades for not investing in the provision of social sector housing.
It is not too late. If you share my views you must contact your local SNP MSP and enlist their help in kicking this one into touch.
And finally …..
This is the time of year when a new batch of legal eagles take the first steps on what they hope will be successful career as a court lawyer.
In the hope that the subject of this story may not read this column I relate the following cautionary tale. The first solo court experience is undoubtedly nerve-racking. Such was the case with an old friend in the dim and distant past who turned up in court to defend his client from a minor criminal charge.
It was his misfortune that his case was the first to be called. Hearing his client’s name called, he leapt to his feet and took what he assumed to be his place in the proceedings.
The judge, fortunately one who still possessed a sense of humour, was pleased to point out to the unfortunate lawyer that he was standing in the box normally reserved for the accused.
What little confidence there was evaporated and I understand things went downhill thereafter.
However, as an encouragement to my new colleagues I should point out that the lawyer in question went on to a long and distinguished career and ended up as chairman of an important Tribunal.