Brainfood: Workplace rights - The sands of time

Spot checks are being carried out on Blackpool beach this summer to make sure that donkeys work only from 10am to 7pm, take an hour for lunch and a day off every week. The local council is threatening to strip offending donkey-ride operators of their licences. Tougher restrictions on hours for human employees could be on the cards too, if proposals to reform the EU working time directive come to fruition. In particular, the European Parliament voted in May to abolish the so-called opt-out - the provision in the directive that allows workers to come to an agreement with their employer to work longer than an average 48-hour week. The proposals are still at an early stage in the labyrinthine Euro legislative process, and it is too early to tell what the outcome will be. Ultimately, the opt-out is more likely to be reformed to prevent abuse by employers rather than scrapped altogether. The debate illustrates the ongoing tension between tackling our long-hours culture in Britain - so we can all spend more time on the beach - and maintaining the competitive edge of European industry in an increasingly cut-throat global economy. If the legislators strike the wrong balance in this area, the law really will be an ass. Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail: employment@lewissilkin.com.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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