Working hours

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What is the European Working Time Directive?

The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) is an EU initiative designed to prevent employers requiring their workforce to work excessively long hours, with implications for health and safety.

The UK version of the EWTD is also known as the Working Time Regulations (WTR). Both terms may be used.

Find out how it affects:

Junior doctors
SAS doctors



The Directive reduces the working week to an average of 48 hours and there are further regulations relating to break periods and holiday allowance, such as:  

  • 11 hours rest a day and a right to a day off each week
  • A right to a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours
  • 5.6 weeks paid leave each year.

The EWTD or WTR has applied to consultants and career grade staff since October 1998 but initially junior doctors were exempt because there were concerns that the NHS would not be able to cope with the loss of so many junior doctor hours in such a short period of time. However in August 2004 the WTR was extended to cover junior doctors.

The working week for junior doctors has been reduced on a gradual basis reaching an average of 48 hours by 1 August 2009 (calculated over six months).

Although junior doctors are now covered by the WTR, it is still possible for doctors to work longer hours by signing an opt-out clause. The Junior Doctors Committee believes that this option should be retained only for those doctors who are able to determine their own working hours.

Given that the WTR aims to improve health and safety, we think that a number of conditions must be met if the opt-out is to remain part of the legislation: any opt-out must be truly voluntary with no undue pressure or coercion exerted on doctors to work outside Directive's hours and rest requirements.  Further, an opt-out should neither be a necessity for a post nor form part of any contract.

Read more about the background of the EWTD, the RCS independent taskforce report and the Time for Training report.