Long-hours consultation launched by employment relations minister

Employment
relations minister Gerry Sutcliffe has launched a consultation into long-hours
working and the way the individual opt-out from the 48-hour working time limit
operates in the UK.

Sutcliffe
said the Government was committed to retaining the opt-out to protect employee
choice and workplace flexibility, but was also determined to make sure it was
being used correctly.

Information
from the consultation will help inform the Government’s policy on long-hours
working and its position on proposals expected soon from the European
Commission on amending the Working Time Directive (WTD), he said.

Sutcliffe
warned: “Some parties have raised concerns that people are being pressured into
signing the opt-out. Such action is illegal, as the opt-out must be signed
voluntarily under current employment legislation.”

UK
plc and the trade unions have long been at loggerheads over the WTD, with
business arguing it is necessary to retain the UK’s competitive edge and the
unions saying it exposes British staff to longer working hours than anywhere
else in Europe.

The
consultation covers three main areas:


ensuring workers have a real choice about long hours


protecting staff who do work long hours


making sure people know about their rights.

The
closing date for the consultation is 22 September 2004.

By Michael Millar

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