Issues related to work time limits have been addressed, based on the previous legislation, in a number of our previous articles. The recent law (Law 4808/2021) addresses the relevant (among others) issues in its Part IV. In the context of the current series of articles, which refer to the new labor law (and having already analyzed the issues related to violence and harassment as well as the issues of leave), we will deal with important, relevant, regulations. Those, in particular, concerning the time limits of work, the four-day work week, the break of the employees. Also, the additional work by those who provide their services on a part-time basis (Articles 56, 57 and 58).
Establishment of working time limits
The Explanatory Memorandum of Law 4808/2021 notes that article 55 §1 addresses the issue of defining basic working hours. Under this regulation, the new law confirms: (a) eight hour work days in full-time contracts in a five-day work week, and (b) six hours and forty minutes, respectively, during the six-day work week.
The specific provision refers to the possibility of allocating 40 hours in five-day or six-day work weeks, based on the provisions in force, the collective labor agreements (Collective Employment Conventions) and the arbitral awards (Arbitration Awards). At this point, there seems to be a gap in the distribution of weekly working hours on the basis of individual contracts and agreements. Shorter full-time hours (on a daily and weekly basis) continue to apply.
The four-day work week
Impressive, indeed, is the regulation that identifies as full-time the forty working hours per week, which are divided into only four days per week (d. 55 §1). A condition of this distribution is its application in the framework of a system of arrangement of working time – basically at the request of the employee (a. 59 §1, law 4808/21 and §6 a. 41 law 1892/21).
The specific regulation (: four days work per week-ten hours per day) raises concerns in relation to the basic similar one, which establishes the regulation of working time (art. 41 law 1892/1990). This is because, according to the specific-basic law, the arrangement of working time is limited per year: it cannot exceed either the six total months in a period of twelve months (§1.a) or the 32 weeks per year (§2 .a).
A recent Circular of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (protocol number 64597 / 03.09.2021) provides, inter alia, that in the context of this four-day week employment, work is not allowed to exceed ten (10) hours per day and forty (40) per week.
It also explicitly states that a new system of organizing working time is being instituted, which is considered to be full-time. One could, moreover, argue that if it were not for such a regulation, its adoption could be limited to the addition of the basic legislation for the regulation of working time (art. 41 Law 1892/1990).
The fact that this is a new system of organization of working time, which is considered as full-time, is practically confirmed by the provision of this Circular for designation as a reference period: (a) six months within a calendar year or, alternatively, (b) one calendar year (: provision that directly deviates from the respective reference periods of art. 41 Law 1892/1990).
Based on the above data (and despite the reservations of part of the scientific community), the four-day (and forty-hour) weekly employment of the employee can, without problem, be applied on a permanent basis, under the self-evident condition of the employee-employer agreement.
Of course, it would be desirable if the introduction of this, new, system took place in a more direct way and not through a circular. A circular that not only the law is not able to amend but, already, has created interpretative concerns.
Break during working hours
The provision of article 56 (amending Art. 4 of the Presidential Decree no. 88/1999) concerns the rest of the employees and, specifically, it regards their break during working hours. This regulation reduces, by two hours, the minimum working time, which obliged the employer to give a break to the employee. Thus, the current provision stipulates that when the daily working time exceeds four (4) consecutive hours (instead of the six under the pre-existing regime), a break is granted. Its duration extends from fifteen (15) to thirty (30), maximum, minutes and is not included in the working time.
The introduction of a maximum duration of the break is intended to address abusive practices. To prevent, in particular, the indirect extension of working hours through long lasting breaks during which employees actually provide their work (as, in some cases, was the case under the pre-existing scheme).
The new regulation maintains in force the §2 of a. 4 of Presidential Decree no. 88/1999, which laid down the technical arrangements for granting the break, including its duration. Specifically, the set of terms for the granting of the break was (and still is) determined by each business and, in particular, on the basis of consultation between the employer and employees’ representatives (Law 1264/1982). In the context of this consultation, the risks associated with the organization of working time must be assessed. These risks are recorded based on the written risk assessment, which concerns the issues of health and safety of employees (Presidential Decree no. 17/1996).
Regarding this regulation, the Circular clarifies that from the entry into force of article 56, any unfavorable (and logically: any not so favorable) terms of employment contracts relating to the terms of the break cease to apply. Therefore, if it is agreed in a business that the break time is included in the working time (ie, working time is not extended according to the duration of the break), this term is still valid.
It is clarified, at the same time, that it is possible to give a break of more than thirty minutes. The longer duration must be due to the nature (and intensity) of the work provided. This term must be agreed within the framework of the above-mentioned consultation.
Finally, §3 of article 56 concerns part-time employees (who work part time for all or for some days of the week). Under the new regulation, these employees are entitled to a break between the individual parts of their schedule. However, the duration of their specific rest cannot, in this case, be less than three hours.
Additional work of part-time employees
Article 57 regulates the issue of the provision of additional work by employees with a part-time contracts (Art. 38 Law 1892/1990). Under the previous regime, it was already provided that in cases of need for additional work (: beyond the agreed upon), the employee is obliged to provide it. Provided, however, that they are able to do so and their refusal is not contrary to good faith.
The new regulation, however, provides that additional work may be provided (also) during hours that are not consecutive with the agreed part-time schedule. Provided, of course, that the employee has agreed and subject to the provisions for daily rest.
Work that may be provided, in addition to the agreed one, is remunerated with a surcharge of 12% on the agreed remuneration for each additional hour of employment (ie, the pre-existing, relevant, provision is maintained). Furthermore, it is pointed out that, even under the current regime, the part-time employee may refuse to provide the above additional work, when it is common that it takes place. It is clarified, at the same time, that this additional work can be carried out, at most, until the completion of the full daily schedule of the comparable employee.
In essence, the new element introduced by the above-mentioned new regulation is the possibility given to the employer and the part-time employee for the latter to work discontinuously in relation to their agreed hours. This is in contrast to the pre-existing regime (: art. 38 Law 1892/1990), where the additional work of a part-time employee was possible only immediately before the beginning or immediately after the end of the agreed working hours.
The recent labor law confirms, in terms of working time limits, the “sacred” regulation of forty working hours per week. However, it intervenes, for the better, in other important sections of the specific topic (ie the working time limits). Prominent among them is the (timid) introduction of a four-day (and forty-hour) work week. Of equal importance is the obligation that an employee takes a break after four hours (and not after six hours) – lasting from 15′ to 30′- but also the possibility of part-time employees to provide additional work not, exclusively, before or after their initially agreed hours.
We look forward, based on the above, to the positive utilization of the specific regulations. For the benefit of both employees and businesses.
Of course, also for the benefit of the country’s economy.-
P.S. A brief version of this article has been published in MAKEDONIA Newspaper (October 17th, 2021).
Disclaimer: the information provided in this article is not (and is not intended to) constitute legal advice. Legal advice can only be offered by a competent attorney and after the latter takes into consideration all the relevant to your case data that you will provide them with. See here for more details.