Euro directive under fire

EEF says that Government’s method of imposing working time law goes too far

The Engineering Employers’ Federation has warned that Government plans to fine companies that breach the European working time directive go further than they need to.

The UK had refused to transpose the directive into law, but it reversed this decision following a European Court of Justice judgment last year.

The Government is proposing to use industrial tribunals for enforcement of the directive, which affects maximum working hours and legal requirements on holidays and shift patterns.

In a response to a Department of Trade and Industry consultation document, the EEF welcomed the use of tribunals but said compensation should only be awarded for the actual loss suffered by the applicant and not `to applicants for the infringement of the right to which the complaint relates’.

Failure to make such a change `would introduce a penal element into civil remedies that is unjust,’ said the EEF.

It has called for maximum compensation of £11,300, in line with that for unfair dismissal.

David Yeandle, EEF head of employment affairs, said the federation was surprised a Government so strongly opposed to the directive was proposing to introduce unnecessary penalties. The cost to engineering firms was unquantifiable, but significant, he said. The directive was more extensive than many realised and he urged the Government and industry to take up all the possible derogations available.

Under one such derogation, firms can work out the average maximum weekly working time over a period of up to 12 months. For non-unionised workforces, the minimum period for this is six months, unless agreement is reached between the two sides of industry.

Many engineering firms would however, said Yeandle, shy away from such an approach. Any agreements would have to be through elected representatives of the workforce, and under the proposals these would become legally enforceable.

The EEF’s other main recommendations include:

* The definition of exclusions to be more clearly clarified. It should include, for example, `drivers in an engineering company’.

* The `individual agreements’ between employees and employers should not have to be in writing.

* The definition of night should be left to employers. If this was not possible, 11pm-6am would be best, and 5pm-7am worst.

Any legislation under the directive would not be likely until the autumn sitting of Parliament.

By Anthony Gould