Dateline Brussels, April 1, 2017
The declaration that restaurant workers must have time off in the middle of the day and cannot be required to work in the evenings came as a joint announcement from the Commissioner for Health & Food Safety and the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labor Mobility. While this was unexpected, it was presented as following directly in the line of previous regulations intended to protect workers from unsocial conditions.
Conditions for workers are governed by E.U. Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC. An Impact Assessment of the evolution of working time organisation concluded in December 2010 that: “Working at hours which are normatively devoted to social interaction, such as on evenings and weekends, should lead to severe impairments to social well-being as well as to a reduction of time for social commitments.”
The Impact Assessment was especially concerned about the results of working unusual hours: “Workers are also subjected to a desynchronization from the social rhythm of a society.” Indeeed, there was specific concern about people who had to work at interrupted periods: “Those working in rotating shifts have to work during valuable times for social interaction and participation and thus are restricted from social participation and interaction leading to substantial social impairments.”
The assessment was part of a continuing process of review of the Directive that involved consultations with interested parties. However, the Commission subsequently reported that: “Extensive talks were held throughout 2012, but no agreement was reached. Since workers’ and employers’ organisations have been unable to reach agreement, it is now up to the Commission to decide on the review of the Working Time Directive.”
The E.U. has now taken the bull by the horns. It was only a small step to move from concern about working at unsocial shift times or on evenings or weekends to conclude that requiring restaurant workers to work during meal times prevents them from having social interactions over lunch or dinner. But what about disruption to the industry? “The EU has concluded that its mandate to protect workers takes precedence over concerns about any disruption to the industry.”
|Marianne Thyssen, E.U. Commissioner, Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility||Vytenis Andriukaitis, E.U. Commissioner for Health & Food Safety|
The new regulations come into immediate effect, but with a transitional period during which workers may work either at lunch or at dinner but not both. When they take full effect, however, restaurants will have to find other means to prepare and serve food at unsocial times (defined as between noon and 2 p.m. and between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.). Restauranteurs have reserved comment so far, but there is concern in the drinks industry about collateral damage.
 European Commission DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Annex 1 – Study on health and safety aspects of working time, 21 December 2010.