Classing staff ‘on call’ time as working will cost millions

I am concerned with your apparent anti-EU stance, typified by the headline about the Working Time Directive (WTD) (Personnel Today, 7 November).

The 48-hour opt-out in the WTD could have been easily retained, albeit it with more controls. The UK only had to agree to a phasing out over (probably) a fairly long time scale.

As relatively few of the alleged 1.7 million workers who sign the opt-out are, in reality, required to work longer hours, UK employers have been badly served by this simplistic and negative approach by the government.

It is the ‘on call’ provisions that are the critical issue. The government presenting this as a healthcare matter is grossly misleading. All staff on call are ‘working’, even though they can sleep. They have to be paid the full rate of pay. The Finnish proposal would have added some flexibility. Now, it is estimated employers will have to pay E300m (£202m) to fund this ‘on-call’ time.

I am genuinely amazed, however, that the government – whose major contribution to positive action in employment law has been in the area of family-friendly rights – cannot see that its stance on the opt-out and the failure to address the long-hours culture militates so much against families.

EC commissioner Vladimir Spidla has intimated that action will be taken to deal with ‘excessive hours of work’ (whatever that means).

I agree that it is very emotive, but I feel that the Finnish draft had the potential to deal with most concerns and to take some of the controversy out of it.

As it stands, it is likely that things will get a lot worse.

Pat Leighton
Jean Monnet chair in European law, University of Glamorgan

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