EC decision on 48-hour opt-out before Christmas

The decision by the European Commission on whether to recommend a ban on UK
employees working longer than a 48-hour week is due to be announced before
Christmas.

The recommendation could dramatically change the way UK employers,
especially in industries such as logistics, catering and construction, roster
staff.

David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at the manufacturers’
organisation EEF, said while he expects a document before Christmas, he does
not know what it will contain.

"There is a lack of clarity [about] the contents and the status of the
document – it is not known whether it will be viewed as a general consultation
document or as the first stage of formal consultation," he said.

Currently, the Working Time Directive – which was adopted in 1993 – allows
staff to opt-out of the limit, but its use has been under review by Europe
after fears that UK employers were abusing the clause.

An independent report by Cambridge academics found "evidence of the
opt-out being included as a standard term of employment contracts and so, in
effect, being compulsory".

However, the report also notes that the conciliation service Acas feels the
opt-out "has not created significant industrial relations
difficulties", and that the T&G union believes "the freedom to
work overtime rather than employer pressure was the major incentive"
behind opt-out agreements.

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