In a judgment of 2 March 2023, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on the concepts of daily and weekly rest. The Court recalls that these concepts are autonomous and cannot be interpreted differently than the definitions provided for in Articles 3 and 5 of Directive 2003/88/EC. It is therefore not possible to consider that daily rest forms part of weekly rest. According to the Court, these concepts entail separate rights, whereby the enjoyment of one cannot lead to the deprivation from the other, irrespective of whether the legislation of the Member State is more favourable than the EU directive.

The facts giving rise to the preliminary questions referred to the European Court concern a Hungarian worker employed as a train driver. He was entitled, under national law, to an uninterrupted rest period of 12 hours between two periods of work and to a weekly rest period of 48 consecutive hours.

In the dispute, the worker concerned claimed a payment of unpaid wages, on the grounds that he was, in his view, entitled to a daily rest period before and after the weekly rest periods. Indeed, when the worker concerned was granted a weekly rest period, or when he took leave, he was not granted a daily rest period.

The employer, on the other hand, claimed that the daily rest period was already included in the weekly rest period, and that a separate rest period should only be granted to separate two work periods.

The referring court referred five questions for a preliminary ruling, which the Court answered in three parts.

The first and second questions address the concepts of daily and weekly rest. The questions asked whether a daily rest period can form part of a weekly rest period, or if these concepts are separate and cannot be mixed.

The Court considers that weekly rest and daily rest are two autonomous concepts, which pursue different objectives and are regulated by two separate provisions. The daily rest period allows the employee to “remove himself or herself from his or her working environment for a specific number of hours which must not only be consecutive but must also directly follow a period of work”. Weekly rest allows the worker to “rest during each seven-day period”.

Daily and weekly rest periods cannot therefore be mixed, and the right to daily rest is additional to the right to weekly rest.

Secondly, the third question concerns the fact that national legislation is more favourable than Directive 2003/88/EC in this case: the national weekly rest period in Hungary is longer than what is foreseen at the EU level. On this point, the Court recalls that the existence of national law which is more favourable has no bearing on the interpretation of the Directive.  This implies that – even when national law provides for a longer weekly rest period – this does not affect the interpretation of the concept of “daily rest period”, as defined by European law.

With the fourth and fifth questions, the Hungarian judge asks, essentially, whether the employee is entitled to a daily rest period, even when this will be followed by a weekly rest period. Again, the Court refers to the fact that the two concepts are autonomous and that they pursue different objectives. The employee must be able to “remove himself or herself from his or her working environment for a specific number of hours” even if the daily rest period is followed by another rest period.

Key message

Belgian law already provides that the daily rest of 11 consecutive hours is added to the weekly rest of 24 hours to make a total of 35 consecutive hours. This ruling should not have any consequences for your activities in Belgium as a Belgian employer.

However, if you are active abroad (e.g., in Hungary or other EU countries), this ruling will be important in order to ensure that daily rest is not mixed with weekly rest, even if the weekly rest provided for at national level is already more favourable than the minimum provided for at European level.

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