An amendment to the controversial Working Time Directive for the road transport sector will introduce tough new standards on the fleet industry when it comes into force on August 1.
The Horizontal Amending Directive (HAD) contains four key provisions affecting all vehicle operators which until this year have fallen outside the original directive or were exempt from European Union drivers' hours rules.
The provisions are for a 48-hour average working week, the requirement for four weeks paid annual leave, regular health checks for night workers and, most importantly, the need for 'adequate rest'.
Civil servants say they took the term 'adequate rest' straight from the original text drawn up by European politicians and admit that it could lead to confusion. Furthermore, drivers can opt out of the 48-hour average working week, which does not include commuting hours.
A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry, which is handling the HAD, said: 'The working directive affects any mobile worker. Employers have to ensure their drivers get adequate rest when they are on the road.
'If employers are refusing to give staff adequate rest, then they could be taken to an employment tribunal. The directive is health and safety- focused and we will consider producing guidance to explain adequate rest.'
The move follows a major consultation at the end of last year and meetings with industry leaders on the proposals.
Although the Working Time Directive has been law in Britain since 1998, it excluded key sectors including air, rail and road. These new amendments aim to address these areas, backed by the Road Transport Directive, which is also being considered but affects vehicles over 3.5-tonnes.
Earlier this year, the Confederation of British Industry called for any new legislation to include general wording to ensure that there was flexibility for the transport sector.