BERLIN — The European Union’s top court ruled on Tuesday that EU countries must make employers set up a system to measure the time worked every day by each worker to ensure compliance with labor laws.
The ruling from the European Court of Justice stems from a case in which labor union Comisiones Obreras sought to have a Spanish subsidiary of Germany’s Deutsche Bank obliged to set up such a system.
The bank contended that Spanish law has a less exacting requirement for overtime hours to be recorded each month. A Spanish court that referred questions to EU judges told them that 53.7% of overtime hours in Spain weren’t recorded and argued that the country’s law didn’t ensure effective compliance with EU rules on working time or workers’ health and safety.
The ECJ said countries in the 28-nation EU “must require employers to set up an objective, reliable and accessible system enabling the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured.”
It found that, absent such a system, it is impossible to determine “objectively and reliably” the number of hours and the quantity of overtime worked and “excessively difficult, if not impossible in practice” for employees to ensure their rights are upheld.
It wasn’t immediately clear what exactly the ruling will mean in practice. EU countries will have to work out their own specific arrangements to implement the ruling, the court said, taking into account as necessary “the particular characteristics of each sector” and other factors such as companies’ size.
The EU Working Time Directive stipulates that the average working time for a seven-day period must not exceed 48 hours including overtime and that a worker is entitled to a minimum 11 consecutive hours of rest in every 24-hour period, among other things.
Spain itself has already moved in the direction required by the ruling. Its center-left Socialist government recently introduced rules requiring all companies, big and small, to keep records of employees’ daily working hours. They impose hefty fines if companies fail to keep records for at least four years.
The ECJ ruling drew criticism from the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, Germany’s main employer group.
“We employers are against a universal reintroduction of the time clock in the 21st century,” the group said. “You cannot react to the demands of labor world 4.0 with a work time recording system 1.0.”
The group argued that the decision must not disadvantage employees who work flexibly and argued that employees could be obliged to record their own work.
José María Martínez of Comisiones Obreras, the Spanish union, rejected the idea that the ECJ ruling and the Spanish government’s new regulations would discourage flexibility. He said that the ruling “provides tools to halt fraud in overtime and gives inspectors a way to act.”
Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.