Thursday 2. December 2021


Why a work-free Sunday is more important for workers’ health than any other free day of the week

The initial Working Time Directive of 23 November 1993[1] made provision in Article 5 for a minimum weekly rest period, which “shall in principle include Sunday”.


On 12 November 1996 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) annulled this provision. The Court found “that the Council has failed to explain why Sunday, as a weekly rest day, is more closely connected with the health and safety of workers than any other day of the week.”[2] It follows from the Court’s reasoning, that the protection of Sunday as such does not fall outside the scope of the Directive, but simply that there had not been sufficient reason to explain why Sunday as a weekly rest day contributes more than any other day of the week to the health and safety of workers. A provision aiming at including Sunday, as a weekly rest day, in any future revised Working Time Directive is therefore to be welcomed if the European lawmaker delivers on the ECJ’s tacit invitation to demonstrate that Sunday is more closely connected with the health of workers than any other day of the week.

Health does not only encompass the physical, but also the mental health of workers. The Commission adopts the World Health Organisation’s definition of mental health according to which mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”[3]. A study issued by the DG for Health and Consumers on 13 June 2008[4] states that mental health


  • is affected by policies that influence family life,
  • includes concepts such as our ability to initiate and sustain relationships and to play a part in our social world,
  • encompasses the ability to develop spiritually.


Finally, in its judgment of 12 November 1996 the ECJ advocated a broad interpretation of the concept of health within the meaning of Article 137 EC Treaty. It refers to the preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organisation which defines health as the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being that does not consist only of the absence of illness or infirmity.[5]

[1] Directive 93/104/EC of the Council of 23 November 1993 concerning certain aspects of the organization of working time, OJ L 307, p. 18.

[2] See ECJ, Case C-84/94, UK v. Council of the EU, Judgment of 12 November 1996, para. 37.

[3] European Commission, Improving the mental health of the population: Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union, COM(2005) 484, p. 4, referring to WHO, Strengthening mental health promotion, Geneva 2001 (Fact sheet no. 220).

[4] DG for Health & Consumers, Mental Health in the EU, A Background Paper, 13 June 2008, p. 5.

[5] See ECJ, Case C-84/94, UK v. Council of the EU, Judgment of 12 November 1996, para. 15.



These findings give strong support to the argument that a free Sunday is ofunparalleled importance for the health of workers


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