Committee recommends UK gives up working time opt-out

The parliamentary body which advises the government on employment policy has made recommendations guaranteed to anger business, including the removal of the opt-out to the Working Time Directive and the extension of the right to flexible working.

The Trade and Industry Select Committee said it was not convinced by the arguments for retaining the opt-out from the Working Time Directive, which has enough flexibility to accommodate the needs of business.

Its Report on UK Employment Regulation also says the right to request flexible working for the parents of young children has been well received and the proposal should be extended to all those with caring responsibilities.

With the numbers of working mothers rising and an ageing population, employers will find that accommodating the caring obligations of their employees is a necessity, not a luxury, the report found.

Contrary to claims from employers’ bodies such as the CBI, the committee said that employment regulation in the UK is not excessively burdensome on employers or a threat to UK competitiveness.

However, the report found that future regulation should only be introduced where a problem has been identified and that can only be remedied by regulatory intervention.

Martin O’Neill, chairman of the committee, said employment regulation had been contrasted with flexibility for too long.

“In reality, regulation need not mean inflexibility,” he said. “Individual regulations should be judged on their own merits.”

Future regulations should be designed with the goals of the Lisbon Strategy (a Europe-wide commitment to bring about economic, social and environmental renewal in the EU) in mind, O’Neill said.

Key findings of the research:



  • Employment regulation in the UK is not excessively burdensome on employers nor a threat to UK competitiveness
  • The principle of minimum wage should be extended to 16 and 17 year olds, but at a lower rate
  • Agency workers should be entitled to equivalent working conditions to full-time workers immediately but there is fundamental difficulty in determining and enforcing an ‘equal pay rate’
  • The Working Time Directive has enough flexibility to accommodate the needs of business
  • The right to request flexible working should be extended to all those with caring responsibilities



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