Fight to push through work laws intensifies

The European Union has a real fight on its hands if it is to complete work
on two controversial labour directives by the time the current European
Commission retires later this year.

Andrew Fielding, the commission’s deputy head of cabinet for employment,
said arguments over a review of the Working Time Directive and the new
Temporary Agency Workers Directive must be sorted out before the current
commission’s five-year tenure of office ends in October 2004.

However, speaking at the 2010 Work Odyssey conference in Brussels, Fielding
admitted the EU executive would face a major battle to conclude the legislation
in time.

Commenting on the Working Time Directive, he said Europe now has legislation
in place for a 48-hour week, but noted there were a number of possible waivers
with certain conditions attached.

He described how people "with a certain degree of autonomy as to how
they work" were entitled to an exemption, and cited the UK’s 48-hour
opt-out.

He added that a number of other member states were now also arguing the case
for an opt-out following a number of recent court cases – the most notable
being the European Court of Justice Jaeger ruling, which stipulated that time
spent by doctors on call at hospitals should count as standard working time.

Fielding explained that the commission would now produce a report on the
directive and the way in which it is currently applied in the UK.

"Unfortunately, there has been considerable abuse in the country using
the opt-out at the moment, and the commission will be looking at this matter
very, very carefully," he warned.

Regarding the temps directive, Fielding said the commission was optimistic
that a resolution was on the horizon, ahead of the arrival of new EU members at
the start of May 2004.

"The commission will be pushing for the adoption of this directive in a
balanced form now and under the Irish presidency [which began this month] in
the run up to enlargement," he said.

By Wendy Jones in Brussels

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