Agricultural Workers and the Working Time Directive

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The Working Time Directive is a Directive in European Union Law.  The legislation gives European Union workers rights to receive paid holidays each year, rest breaks, and rest breaks in between shifts to avoid excessive working hours.

There are groups of workers who are completely exempt from working time rights.  They include Mobile Transport Staff e.g. Train Drivers, Seafarers, Mobile Air Transport Workers, Lorry and Public Transport Drivers etc.  There  are other groups of workers who have working time rights however their employers are given more flexibility in how to implement the rights. These include jobs that require ‘continuity of service or production’ such as Agricultural Workers as the work cannot be interrupted such as feeding livestock.

Jobs where there are seasonal peaks, such as farm workers who are  lambing, calving, feeding livestock will be  subject to the Working Time Directive Regulations 1998.  These workers will come under the ‘special cases’ element of the legislation giving the employers more flexibility with rest brakes under the  Working Time Directive.

Agricultural enterprises may find themselves entering a very busy period with a pressing need for their workers to work longer hours or extra shifts to meet demand e.g. harvest time or lambing season. This is common in the farming industry, where changing seasons mean a change in work patterns. It may be necessary to ask a worker to forego their usual working pattern to accommodate busy periods.  Employers should be careful to ensure they do not breach their obligations towards workers’ rest breaks.

Employers should be aware that workers are entitled to a daily period of 11 hours uninterrupted rest in every 24-hour period, and a weekly rest period of 24 hours uninterrupted rest in every seven-day period.  The weekly rest period can instead consist of two uninterrupted 24-hour rests (or 48 hours) in every 14-day period.

The Working Time Directive does enable the employer, in limited circumstances, to require certain workers to work during rest periods. This can be done if the circumstances fit within the definition of ‘special cases’. This definition includes,

“where the worker’s activities involve the need for continuity of service or production, as may be the case, in relation to…agriculture”


“where there is a foreseeable surge in activity, as may be the case in relation to…agriculture”

It is important to note that if an  employer requires a worker to work through their rest period, they must allow the worker to take an equivalent period of rest, which should be the same as the length of the interruptions to the period of rest.  The compensatory rest should be taken as soon as possible, if not immediately after working, although there is no definitive timescale.

Further advice

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article or require assistance with your Agricultural Working Pattern, please get in touch with our Employment Law Solicitor Sasha Brine by calling 07475069698