BERLIN // Police officers in a German state have won the right to be paid for the time they spend putting on their uniforms. The landmark court ruling could force authorities to recruit hundreds of additional constables. In most European countries, the paid shifts of officers start when they go on duty in uniform.
But the administrative court in the western city of Munster ruled last month in favour of a police officer who had demanded that his dressing time be counted as part of his shift. He was backed by the German Police Federation, a trade union, which calculated that an officer spends 15 minutes a day putting on and taking off his uniform and equipment, including handcuffs, radio and bullet-proof vest, as well as retrieving his service weapon from a secure locker and loading it. That adds up to 50 hours - or about a working week - each year.
The German police force is organised by region and the ruling so far applies only to North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the most populous of Germany's 16 states with 18 million inhabitants. The state government has appealed against the ruling and the case will now be heard by the state's highest senior administrative court. If the police officers get their way, the regional government will have to add 400 officers to its force of 16,000 at a cost of about ?20miliion (Dh97.4m) under the new requirements.
The decision has raised eyebrows in Germany even though the country prides itself on its strong workers' rights. "If the ruling is confirmed, police in other regions will probably follow suit and take legal action," Roland Neubert, the lawyer representing the North Rhine-Westphalia police federation, said. "One can't rule out that all kinds of other professions will jump on the bandwagon." It may also prompt police in other countries to demand similar concessions. Police in Britain have no dressing time allowance, the Police Federation of England and Wales said.
German officers said the ruling was overdue and would settle a dispute that has been simmering for decades. "The police uniform is a professional outfit and if I need my outfit to carry out my duties, then the time I spend putting it on is work time," Heinz Rump, the regional director of the police federation for NRW, said. "Imagine if one were to say it isn't a work outfit, and officers had to wear it when they travel to and from work on the train every day. You'd have to intervene 10 times on the journey because ordinary citizens wouldn't be able to tell that you're not on duty.
"And you'd have to take your service pistol with you, which means you would need to install a secure steel container in your home." The Munster court said police were entitled to be paid for dressing regardless of whether they do it at the station or at home. So far only the police, who are civil servants and, therefore, are difficult to dismiss, have successfully sued their employer to get paid for their dressing time.
"Employees in the private sector tend to shun legal action, but police officers have nothing to lose because of their job security," said Mr Neubert, the NRW police federation lawyer. Similar cases have had mixed success. A cook in a self-service restaurant went before the country's highest labour court to demand money for putting on his chef's uniform every day. He lost, as did a waste-disposal worker, who wanted money for the time he spent showering at the end of his shift.
But nurses were successful when they took legal action to have the duration of their walk from the changing room to the hospital ward counted as part of their shift. Explaining its decision, the court said the police uniform, unlike the suit of a bank employee, for example, was not suitable for private use and "was equipment purely intended to provide protection and security". It added that some police officers had been unfairly treated because their colleagues who ride motorcycles and bicycles on the job already get their dressing time added on as work time.
"This isn't about getting paid for just a few routine actions. It's about establishing that police officers have the right to get paid for the work that is demanded of them," said Frank Richter, the chairman of the regional police federation. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org