EU ministers fail to agree on working time

EU employment ministers have again failed to reach a deal on rules for working long hours, despite the UK’s shift on the opt-out clause from the 48-hour week.

The revision of the working time directive has been sparked by a ruling in Europe’s top court that all time spent by workers on duty – whether actually working or just making themselves available – should be regarded as proper “working time”.

The UK presidency was determined to push for an agreement at the last employment and social policy council under its chairmanship yesterday.

But its final compromise position was rejected by 15 out of 25 countries, including Germany, France and several new member states.

The ministers failed to agree on whether or not a date for the eventual scrapping of the opt-out should be made clear in the revised directive.

On top of this, they ended in stalemate over the issue of workers’ contractual time limits.

In an attempt to reach a deal, the UK presidency agreed that working longer than the average limit of 48 hours per week should be regarded as an exemption to be gradually reduced and “eventually made redundant”.

The rejected compromise also included several stricter measures to ensure workers are not forced to sign contracts stipulating long hours.

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