Working time regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations 1998 was a statutory instrument implementing the European Union's Working Time Directive 1993 in UK legislation. It gave employees the right to:

  • a maximum working week of 48 hours (averaged over a 17-week period) – individual employees could voluntarily opt out of this restriction
  • a minimum rest period of 11 consecutive hours a day
  • a rest break when the day is longer than 6 hours
  • a minimum of one rest day per week
  • the statutory right to 4 weeks' holiday.

The regulations allowed temporary exemptions for certain employers, to give them time to prepare for the required changes. This exemption was initially applied to junior doctors, while the reduction of other doctors' hours was introduced gradually, starting with consultants.

While the working limits are good in principle, there were concerns that the reduction in hours hindered the training programme of junior doctors, meaning that they receive less exposure to different cases in training compared to junior doctors in the past.

Later developments

From 1 August 2004, the regulations were extended to cover previously exempted groups. While individual doctors could voluntarily opt out of the 48-hour week limit, they could not opt out of the other restrictions. At first, junior doctors' working weeks were limited to an average 58 hours but, through phased reductions, this was supposed to fall in line with the 48-hour working week by 2009.

In July 2014, the coalition government announced a taskforce to review the implementation of the working time directive and how to support more flexible training options for junior doctors.

Source(s)

Working time regulations 1998.

Pickersgill T.
The European working time directive for doctors in training.
BMJ.
2001; 323: 1266.

NHS Employers.
Working Time Directive
NHS Employers; 2017.

Hart G.
Working time directive hinders junior doctors' progress
The Guardian; 2013.