Firefighters ‘on call’ counts as working time

Villes de Nivelles v Matzak

Mr Matzak served as a volunteer firefighter in Nivelles, Belgium from 1980 until 2009. Whilst on stand-by duty, he had to be contactable at all times and remain within 8 minutes travel time of the fire station. All staff (including voluntary) were paid an annual allowance for stand-by shifts. Mr Matzak brought proceedings claiming he had not been paid correctly.


The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) had to decide on Mr Matzak’s employment status. They found that Mr Matzak was a worker as he was integrated into the fire service where he pursued real, genuine activities under the direction of another person for which he received remuneration.

After deciding that Mr Matzak was a worker, the CJEU (amongst other issues) then went on to consider whether stand-by time was working time. The General of the fire service had argued that the quality of Mr Matzak’s work whilst on stand-by was more important than where he should be. The CJEU rejected this argument, setting out that the intensity or quality of Mr Matzak’s work did not determine whether he was working or on a rest period.

The CJEU decided that when a worker had to be physically present at a place determined by their employer and available for work within a specific time frame, that was part of their normal working duties, as the worker could not choose where they were to be during that time. Therefore, stand-by time was working time.

The CJEU said whether Mr Matzak had been paid appropriately would need to be determined by the national court.


Workers are entitled to holiday pay, minimum wage and protection from discrimination.

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, a worker is considered to be engaged in ‘working time’ during any period which they work at their employers disposal, carrying out their activities or duties. This case had provided further clarification on what amounts to working time and may have significant cost implications for some employers, as workers are entitled to receive the national minimum wage for working time.

If you have any queries in relation to working time or any other HR queries then please do not hesitate to contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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