Time out

The European Parliament has voted to end the UK‘s opt-out of the EU Working Time Directive, which allows UK companies to ask staff to work more than 48 hours a week.

‘This is a victory for a common sense compromise on the 48 hour working week,’ said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber.

‘If implemented it would mean that employers would have to accept that staff could no longer work more than 48 hours a week on average, but unions would have to concede that the average would be calculated over 12 months, not the current 17 weeks. This would mean nearly two million UK workers who currently work more than 48 hours over a 17 week period would fall below the limit, and only the two million workers putting in extremely long hours all year round will be affected,’ he added. ‘Working more than 48 hours week in, week out, year in, year out is undoubtedly bad for health and productivity. Tired workers are more likely to have accidents and to suffer illness.’

But not everyone is happy. CBI Director-General Sir Digby Jones is one of them.

‘Today’s vote shows the European Parliament has learned nothing about the challenge of globalisation. Presumably these are the same MEPs who will be complaining about employers relocating to China and India in the years to come.’

‘The current opt-out system works, in large part, extremely well. It gives employees choice in the hours they work, allowing them to generate wealth for their families and companies to generate wealth for the nation. People need the opportunity to aspire and earn extra money if they want to,’ he added.

‘I want to hear from the trade unions just who is going to compensate families for lost income – I’m sure it won’t be the Government or indeed the unions themselves.’

‘If implemented, this Directive would restrict the UK‘s highly flexible labour market, and undermine the EU’s declared aim to become the most competitive economy in the world by 2010. If we allow Britain‘s economy to become hidebound in this way, emerging economies like China and India will walk all over us.’

‘This now becomes the first test of our new Government’s resolve to reform Europe. The crunch decision rests with the European Council meeting in June, and we expect to see the UK‘s representatives holding robustly to their position,’ he concluded.