Employers must track staff working hours, EU court rules

Ruling to help uphold EU Working Time Directive should help tackle industry crunch problem

A ruling by the European Union's top court could help tackle crunch culture in the games industry.

Today the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that employers must establish a system to accurately track the working hours of their staff.

The decision is ostensibly an effort to enforce the European Working Time Directive, which restricts employers from making staff work more than 48 hours a week, and grants at least 11 consecutive hours of rest every 24 hours.

While employees can opt-out of this directive in order to work more hours, they are free to opt back in without restriction. Furthermore, employees can cancel their opt-out agreement even if it was part of their employment contract.

As reported by the Associated Press, the ruling comes after labour union Comisiones Obreras sought to have the Spainish subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Bank set up such a system.

The ECJ said European member states "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."

There is no indication how exactly the ruling will be upheld, but it would theoretically make the industry's gruelling crunch problem a thing of the past, in Europe at least.

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Latest comments (4)

Eyal Teler Programmer 3 years ago
Just based on the description here, I don't see how this will eliminate crunch. Crunch is voluntary in this system, and employees will still be expected to opt out of the directive, and could face termination if the don't (for 'not fitting with the work culture' or whatever).

I think that until the law limits work hours without any chance of bypassing the limit, with companies not adhering to this being fined huge fines or their managers going to jail, neither an opt-out system nor forcing extra pay for overtime will cure crunch.

(That said, the EU's efforts are still appreciated. Much better than not having any such laws.)
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve3 years ago
I agree with Eyal, it's nice to see effort being made, but ultimately this doesn't seem likely to affect the games industry much if you ever read stories of crunch. If the employer sets a non-negotiable deadline for a task, usually it's up for the employee to do what they need to do to achieve it, and sometimes that will include overtime. If a studio uses crunch culture, employees will feel pressured to opt-out, or get out.

You could brute force it by removing the ability to opt out, but that creates its own set of problems. Ultimately it has to come from a culture shift or unionisation. Many studios make things work without crunch already, or at least without it becoming a habit, hopefully many more will in future.
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Haydn Taylor Staff Writer, GamesIndustry.biz3 years ago
You have to opt-out voluntarily, and in writing. For the most part, people who are overworked don't formerly opt-out, they just work the extra hours. The problem with the EU Working Time Directive up until now is how there are no real means of enforcing it.

However, if its all recorded, it will be harder to simply put pressure on people to waive their rights to healthy working conditions without giving proper consent. So yes, they could still opt-out of the EU Working Time Directive and get worked to death, but at least they will have legally agreed to it, and are legally protected if they decided to opt back in. And if developers overwork them, it's all recorded, and fines and even prison sentences can be handed out accordingly. It's not perfect, but it's a vast improvement.
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You have to opt-out voluntarily, and in writing. For the most part, people who are overworked don't formerly opt-out, they just work the extra hours.
In my experience and from talking to friends this opt-out is actually just a fairly standard and generally unremarked-upon clause of game developer contracts, at least in the UK. Of course, contracts are negotiable and you can opt back in later anyway, but the fact is that most of us simply sign away this consent on day one and are unaware of the option to opt back into the WTD.
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