Unions and employers were united in condemning new European Commission (EC)
proposals aimed at tightening up regulations on working hours.
The EC’s proposal states that the UK
or any EU country can continue to apply the individual opt-out to the 48-hour
limit, but that it would be done by collective agreement in the workplace. The
period for calculating the average 48-hour week would also be increased from
four months to a year, although no one will be able to work longer than 65
hours in any one week.
EU commissioner for employment and social affairs Stavros
Dimas described the proposal as "a balanced
package of measures that protect the health and safety of workers while
introducing greater flexibility and preserving competitiveness".
The TUC said the changes were disappointing and will satisfy no one. General
secretary Brendan Barber said: "These reforms
show the EC has failed to grasp the scale of the UK’s
long-hours culture and the damage it is doing to our workforce and
will still be able to rely on pressuring staff to work long hours instead of
adopting safe, efficient and productive working practices, Barber said.
The CBI pledged that the UK’s
business community would fight "tooth and nail" against the
proposals. Deputy director-general John Cridland said: "This is an attempt to broker a
compromise that has completely backfired.
"The proposals show a clear misunderstanding of the UK’s
industrial relations culture, which serves this country well."
Cridland believes it is good that the EC is
allowing the opt-out to remain, but it is wrong to give the trade unions a veto
over what should be an individual decision. "The proposals would undermine
the individual’s right to choose the hours they work," he said.
employee relations adviser, CIPD
"Our research shows that the majority of long-hours workers don’t want
the opt-out removed. While we agree that managers should not be able to force
employees to work long hours, it is not clear why workers, through their
unions, should be able to force their managers not to work long hours."
deputy director of employment policy, manufacturers’ association EEF
"The announcement has done nothing to allay our concerns. We are
unhappy about the prospect that trade unions could have a veto on individual
employees being able to reach agreement with their employer about the number of
hours they work."
Owen Warnock, employment law partner, Eversheds
"While the opt-out from the 48-hour week still remains, it is in a much
more restricted form and will mean considerable paper-pushing. The maximum
65-hour working week presents problems for many industries, where employees
work in concentrated periods and then have a long break."
By Daniel Thomas