Working hours

Most adult workers have the following rights:

  • the right to a break where the working day is longer than 6 hours
  • a guaranteed daily rest period of 11 hours every working day (though, exceptionally, part of this can be deferred to be taken at the next available opportunity)
  • a guaranteed weekly rest period of 24 hours once in every 7 days (or 48 hours in every 14 days)
  • a ceiling of 48 hours on the maximum average working week
  • a ceiling on night work of an average of 8 hours in every 24
  • a free health assessment for all night workers with a possibility to transfer to day work (where it is available) if working at night is damaging a worker’s health
  • the right to 5.6 weeks annual leave (4 weeks of which must be taken and cannot normally be carried over into the following year).

However, the law is unduly complicated and there are quite a few variations.

  • The weekly limit on working time is an average. You can work more than 48 hours in a week as long as your average hours don’t exceed 48. The average is worked out in different ways for different groups of workers, and the workforce as a whole can agree to change the way it’s worked out.
  • You can sign an individual opt-out and lose the protection of the weekly limit, but you can reverse your opt-out at any time and regain your rights. The notice period for this cannot be more than 3 months. There is no opt-out from the 48-hour maximum average weekly limit on nightwork or any of the other provisions.

Contact your UNISON rep or the branch office for advice and support.