Special paid leave is not due, nor is it recoverable, in the case of concurrent holidays

Case ref: ECJ judgment of 4 June 2020 C-588/18

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) observes that Articles 5 and 7 of Directive 2003/88 (relating to weekly rest periods and annual leave) do not apply to national legislation, which does not allow workers to take certain special paid leave outside of working days. 
Thus, where such special paid leave is inextricably linked to working time by national legislation, in so far as it is intended solely to enable workers to take time off work in order to meet certain needs or obligations requiring their physical presence, workers may not take it during weekly rest periods or paid annual leave.

The case in question arose out of an action brought by some Spanish trade unions against a group of companies. In particular, according to the trade unions, if the facts justifying the granting of one of the types of special paid leave provided for under Spanish legislation (including collective bargaining agreements) occur during a weekly rest period or paid annual leave enjoyed by workers within the meaning of Articles 5 and 7 of Directive 2003/88, those workers should be able to take such leave during a subsequent period of work.
The Spanish Central Court referred the matter to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.
The Court, in its preliminary findings states that «the objective of Directive 2003/88 is to lay down minimum requirements designed to improve the living and working conditions of employees by approximating national provisions concerning, in particular, the length of working time».
Such harmonisation at European Union level with regard to the organisation of working time «is intended to ensure better protection of the safety and health of workers by providing them with minimum rest and break periods and a maximum limit on the length of the working week».
That being said, according to the Court, special leave granted in order to enable workers to meet specified needs or obligations do not fall within the scope of that directive, but rather relate to the exercise by a Member State of its powers. 
Therefore, the Court continues, «in so far as they are intended solely to enable workers to be absent from work in order to meet certain needs or obligations which require their physical presence, the special paid leave provided for by the provisions at issue in the main proceedings is inextricably linked to working time as such, so that workers cannot make use of it during weekly rest periods or paid annual leave».
The ECJ goes on to say «it cannot, however, be maintained that, since weekly rest periods or periods of paid annual leave fall within the scope of Articles 5 and 7 of that directive, those provisions require a Member State whose national legislation provides for the possibility of taking special paid leave solely on the grounds that one of the events covered by the legislation in question occurs during one of those periods, thus disapplying the other conditions for obtaining and granting such leave laid down by that legislation’. In fact, ‘to impose such an obligation would be tantamount to ignoring the fact that those special leave is outside the system established by that directive».
In the light of those considerations, the Court of Justice concludes, therefore, that «Articles 5 and 7 of Directive 2003/88 must be interpreted as meaning that they do not apply to national legislation which does not allow workers to take the special leave provided for by that legislation on days on which they have to work, where the needs and obligations to which such special leave relate occur during periods of weekly rest or paid annual leave referred to in those articles».