Employers race against time on work directive

British manufacturing will face a struggle to meet the demands of the Working Time Directive, due in two weeks, industry leaders have warned. At last week’s launch of the Government’s £1m campaign to promote the Working Time Regulations, Department of Trade and Industry minister Ian McCartney emphasised the benefits to business but concentrated on those […]

British manufacturing will face a struggle to meet the demands of the Working Time Directive, due in two weeks, industry leaders have warned.

At last week’s launch of the Government’s £1m campaign to promote the Working Time Regulations, Department of Trade and Industry minister Ian McCartney emphasised the benefits to business but concentrated on those to workers. He added: ‘nobody profits from working too many hours’.

The Working Time Directive lays out basic employee rights. These include: a minimum four week’s paid annual leave from next year; 11 hours’ rest a day; a day’s rest a week; in-work rest breaks; a limit of an average of 48 hours a week which a worker can be required to work; and a limit of an average of eight hours’ work in 24 hours for night workers.

However, The Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) is concerned about the regulations. ‘They are extremely complex and applying them to practical situations may sometimes appear to be impossible,’ it said.

‘Added to the fact that regulation and recording working time will be a completely new experience for many employers, the regulations will potentially cause a number of concerns and headaches.’

Jean Balcombe, head of information at the Industrial Society, agrees, and said recently that the enquiries it is getting suggest employers are struggling to come to terms with the regulations.

Balcombe also points out that implementation of the directive comes only seven weeks after the regulations became available from the Stationery Office.

‘This gives barely enough time to consult and negotiate effectively with employees and unions on new working practices,’ she said.

However, UK employers will be able to side-step some of the restrictions in the Working Time Directive, at least in the short-term.

People will be able to work more than 48 hours a week through a written opt-out agreement with the employer. And the EEF believes there is nothing in law to prevent an employer from refusing to recruit someone who will not sign such an opt-out agreement.

The UK is the only European Union country to have allowed such opt-outs and a review of the situation by the European Commission in 2003 could well lead to such practices being stamped out.

Meanwhile, in France, a new law is reducing the statutory maximum working week to 35 hours. Some firms are already having to react, but instead of cutting the working week, employees are being offered longer holidays.

Depending on the length of the current working week, this is translating into an extra 15 20 days of paid annual leave for many employees.

The law has been brought in to encourage firms to recruit, in a bid to reduce unemployment. Despite the social benefits, critics believe the mounting costs on businesses of the extra manpower could prove damaging to international competitiveness.

Trade and Industry Minister McCartney said: ‘nobody profits from too many working hours.’

Working hours guide from EEF

The Engineering Employers’ Federation has produced a 130-page guide for businesses on implementing the Working Time Directive. It is based on experiences of member companies and the questions they raised during the consultation and communication exercise recently undertaken by the federation.

It costs £50 to non members. Telephone: 0171 222 7777.

Official leaflets and guidance booklets are also available from the DTI via its website: www.dti.gov.uk/workright.