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ISSUE 66 page 6

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Greece & Ireland referred to ECJ for doctors’ excessive hours

The EU’s Working Time directive has been gradually extended to cover nearly all occupations. It says that average working hours may not exceed 48 hours per week and that workers must have a minimum of 11 hours rest per day with an additional 24 hours per week. Following complaints from doctors’ trade unions in Greece and Ireland the European Commission has now referred those countries to the European Court of Justice.

 It used to be quite common in the U.K. for junior doctors to work 70 or 80 hours a week and such practices as 24-hour shifts were not unknown. The reason that their hours have progressively reduced is the phased application of the EU’s Working Time directive. However in Ireland and Greece the authorities have ignored the 2009 deadline for its implementation for trainee doctors. Although Ireland has enacted laws limiting hours the European Commission (EC) says that these are routinely ignored. The commission cites cases where junior doctors are regularly obliged to work continuous 36 hour shifts; to work more than 100 hours in a single week and 70-75 hours a week on average. In the case of Greece no legal maximum has been passed and doctors in the public health system are obliged to
work a minimum average of 64 hours a week often extending up to 90. As well as the effect on the workers themselves the Commission warns ’Overtired doctors also risk making mistakes which can have serious consequences for their patients’. Following ‘letters of formal notice’ and ‘reasoned opinions’ issued by the EC, no improvements were observed and so the matter will go before the EU court. Trade unions in the two Member States have reacted with strikes and court cases of their own. The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) held a one-day strike in October while Greece’s POEDA is pursuing the Health ministry through the national courts. The IMO has now agreed a timeline for action by the Irish Health Service Executive.

IMO members take part in the union’s ’24 No More’ campaign





Recent rulings from the European Courts

Irish government must protect workers’ pensions in bankrupt schemes

Self-employed women can lose right to share maternity leave

The ECJ has ruled in favour of former workers at Waterford Crystal in Ireland who brought a case with the help of the Unite union. Both the company and the pension scheme went bust in 2009 with employees being offered 18%-28% of their entitlements. The ten complainants and their union contended that the EU’s Insolvency directive required the state to protect pensions in these circumstances. The court said the Irish government was in serious breach of its obligations under the directive because the measures it adopted had not ensured that the plaintiffs would receive in excess of 49% of the value of their pension. Approximately 1,700 former workers will now benefit though the total bill to the state is thought to be about €300 million. Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly stressed the rôle of the trade union: ‘Workers as individuals could not have any hope of taking a case like this. Membership of a trade union is the only means for workers to fight for justice in court cases which cost huge amounts of money’.
A Spanish law, which prevented the male partner of a new mother from claiming some of her maternity leave, has been declared compatible with the EU directives on Equality and Pregnant Workers. In Spain, where both partners are employed, a mother can hand over ten weeks of her maternity leave to the father. However a Sr. Montull claimed ten weeks leave as his partner was self-employed and outside the state social security scheme. The ECJ agreed with the court in Spain that he had no separate right independent of the mother. This was despite the fact that men who adopted or fostered a child did have a primary right to the leave.

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