The Working Time Directive (WTD) for the road transport sector comes into effect in the UK on 23 March this year. It will not only be one of the most expensive pieces of legislation ever to affect operators of goods vehicles and their drivers, it is also likely to be one of the most onerous.

If your company operates “in scope” vehicles (those vehicles subject to EU drivers’ hours and tachograph regulations), you must comply – there is no opt-out.

The directive will have serious implications for all road transport operations, with laundry industry operators affected as much as operators within the general haulage sector.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has estimated that an additional 12,600 vehicles could be required for compliance, costing the road transport Industry (including the laundry transport sector) in excess of £1billion per year.

A recent survey by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) suggests that an average 48hour working week – without using periods of availability – could lead to a 10% reduction in productivity, resulting in a requirement for an additional 12,900 drivers of regulated vehicles, approximately 5% of the current UK driver workforce.

The present national shortage of drivers will increase the problem as drivers will be in considerable demand, and, as a result, some companies may try to attract drivers away from their current employers by offering better pay and conditions.

Directive terms

The directive will impose the following terms:

• an average 48hour working week over a defined reference period

• a maximum 60hours in any week – capped.

• a maximum of 10hours night work (night time is defined as being between 00.00 and 04.00 for regulated drivers)

• the right to a 30minute break if working time totals between six and nine hours or 45minutes if working time exceeds nine hours.

Breaks can be sub divided into minimum periods of 15minutes. Breaks during a shift, whether paid or unpaid, are not included in working time calculations.

Defining working time

The regulations define “working time” as being from the beginning to the end of the mobile worker’s working day, where the mobile worker is at their workstation at the disposal of the employer for the purposes of carrying out his/her job, where that job is devoted to all road transport activities.

As applied to mobile workers in the laundry industry – working time includes:

• driving an “in scope” (regulated) vehicle

• loading and unloading the vehicle.

• vehicle cleaning and maintenance.

• safety work including defect checks and admin

• waiting to load or unload the vehicle at depot; or waiting time at a client’s premises, if this is known in advance .

• Overtime (as per points above).

• training that is part of normal work and also part of the commercial operation

• any secondary employment (driving of a regulated vehicle) where the points above apply.

However, where any other form of secondary employment (including non-regulated driving) is concerned, EU driver’s hours and tachograph regulations will apply (EC3820/85).

A week is defined as being from 00.00 Monday to 24.00 on the following Sunday for the purposes of recording data for the reference period.

The directive affects:

• Mobile workers (drivers and crew) – involved in operations subject to EU driver’s hour’s regulations 3820/85 – drivers and drivers’ “mates”

• occasional drivers who drive “in scope” vehicles for more than 15 days within a 26 week reference period or any occasional driver who does so for more than 10 days in a reference period of less than 26 weeks. Examples include despatch/warehouse staff who occasionally drive ‘in scope’ vehicles.

•agency drivers – those subject to normal terms and conditions of employment to a driver agency. Where there is no contract of employment between the agency and its client, the agency is regarded as the driver’s employer,

Reference Periods

The Government defines a reference period as a 17 (or occasionally 18) week period where a worker’s time is calculated and averages a 48 hour week.

The reference period can be extended to 26 weeks where there is a collective or workforce agreement in place.

Rolling periods or fixed calendar periods can be implemented to suit the needs of individual businesses.

Agreements must be in place before changes take effect.

If a company fails to set its reference periods, then the Government’s default dates will apply and come into effect from 28 March.

Default periods will begin at 00.00 hours on the nearest Monday on (or after) 1 April, 1 August and 1 December each year.

For the year 2005 they start on 28 March, 1 August and 5 December and for 2006 on 3 April, 7 August and 4 December. These dates mix 17 and 18 week reference periods.


You should note that any full week’s of statutory holiday taken during the reference period must be included within that reference period. A week is defined as 48 hours, and statutory holiday is defined as four weeks annual leave.

Any additional annual holiday can be used as compensation.

Single-day holidays (or sickness) are calculated as 8 hours per day.


The working time regulations for mobile workers will be enforced in the UK by VOSA (the vehicle inspectorate agency). This enforcement will mainly be as a result of complaints.

However, although VOSA’s approach will be one of education rather than prosecution, it will have the power to request an employer’s records if there is evidence that the employer is not complying.

If VOSA inspectors find that an employer is failing to comply fully, they can issue an improvement notice requiring any contravention to be corrected within a given time.

If there is likely to be a risk of personal injury, an inspector can issue a prohibition.

In both cases, the employer can appeal against the notice.

However, the penalties for failing to comply with the terms of a notice, failing to provide information requested or for obstructing an inspector during the course of any investigation will be judged by the seriousness of the offence committed.

Fines can range from £5,000 to an unlimited fine upon conviction, and offences can result in imprisonment (in addition to any fine), with sentences ranging from three months to two years.

The laundry industry

Human resource and payroll departments will find their workloads increased as a result of the directive unless the affected depots already have solid procedures for keeping records of drivers’ hours.

Transport managers and Supervisors – already tasked with ensuring compliance of EU drivers’ hours and tachograph regulations, as well as maintaining legal fleet compliance under the constraints of their companies operator’s licence – will find the WTD placing serious demands on them. Some senior managers within the National/International haulage sector are already confused by the working time directive’s content and impact. Putting together the procedures and programs to ensure full compliance is a sizeable task.

Consultation with staff identified as mobile workers, HR and payroll departments will be essential. It is also essential to consult administration staff at depots who are responsible for monitoring mobile workers’ work hours.

It is imperative that (subject to your operation) sufficient numbers of mobile workers (and vehicles) are in place to maintain service levels within the bounds of the directive.

Failure on any level to get this right will affect not just your own operation but that of the people who keep you in business – your customers.

Phil Conner has worked in the international transport industry for 27 years – the past three in the laundry sector. He has worked both as an International Class 1 driver and in various roles in transport and operations management. He is a member of the FTA South East Regional Freight Council and of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.