Mr Pirotte first presented a well-structured and concise case, stating that the Working Time Directive for voluntary firefighters had been breached in Belgium, and urged the European Commission to send a formal letter of notification to the Belgian authorities and to other Member States in breach of the directive.
The main issues raised by the petition is the problem of defining when voluntary firefighters are considered being at work. While professional workers are covered by the directive, voluntary workers are seemingly not, according to certain authorities’ application of the law. Mr Pirotte underlined the importance of noting that voluntary firefighters are available to their employers, even in their rest period, and therefore are in practice at work.
The problem is even greater when the fact that most voluntary firefighters also have a full time job is taken into account. The case was most evident in Mr Pirotte’s example of the lorry driver who is told to stop working after a certain amount of hours due to the health and safety risks. However, after this time, there is nothing to stop the driver then driving a fire engine as a voluntary firefighter. This is due to a misapplication of the directive. According to Mr Pirotte, such a breach “endangers not only the health of the worker, but also of the population he or she is trying to help.”
Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Madeleine Reid, recognised the issue of the legal status of voluntary workers and professionals was a complex one, and explained that this legal status varies between Member States. The Commission has therefore asked the Belgian authorities for clarification on a number of points.
Romanian MEP Victor Boştinaru (S&D) voiced his discontent with the European Commission’s response to Mr Pirotte, and called for a better answer to be provided. According to the MEP, the matter of duty came first, as in practice there is no choice for the firefighter to respond to the call for help or not. Furthermore, Mr Boştinaru said the issue would need to be addressed and the voluntary worker properly treated to avoid discouraging people from helping their local community.
This marks the third year since Mr Pirotte brought the petition forward. Mr Pirotte will continue to stand up for this cause until, as the MEP suggested, a decent answer is provided.