BRAINFOOD: Workplace rights - Working time trials

Working time is sure to be one of the hot pommes de terre in employment this year, thanks to the launch of a major consultation exercise by the European Commission. This is no surprise. The Commission has for some time been making worried noises about the so-called opt-out provision in the 1993 EU working time directive that allows workers to agree to work longer than a 48-hour week. Having negotiated the opt-out, the UK remains the only country to make extensive use of it. A third of UK workers have signed an opt-out agreement, according to a recent survey. Meanwhile, Britain is the only EU country where working hours have increased over the past decade. The consultation will close at the end of this month.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Many employers fear the Commission is plotting to scrap the opt-out. More likely, the focus will be on preventing abuses and introducing greater safeguards for workers asked to opt out. The Commission is also talking about using the directive to 'improve the balance between work and family life' - ironically, one of the Government's flagship policies. But it is questionable whether the political will exists to tackle Britain's long-hours culture without the stick of tougher legislation from the EU.

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