Minister sets a five-year target for working week

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt has set employers a five-year
deadline to make significant progress towards reducing the UK’s long-hours
working culture.

She told delegates at a conference in London last week that the UK has the
highest number of full-time employees working long hours in Europe and it is
damaging the productivity of the country’s workforce.

To help employers reduce working hours, the DTI will produce advice for
employers as well as promote best practice.

Hewitt announced that she is to lead a study programme that will investigate
the impact of shorter hours and the implementation of the Working Time
Directive, which limits staff to a 48-hour week.

The study will take account of working practices in France, the Netherlands
and North America.

Hewitt believes the key to reducing long working hours is to convince
employers of the merits of flexible working.

"So many employers have still not seen the light," she said,
adding that while more employers do now understand about parents’ need to work
flexibly, awareness of the issues needs to be universal. "That way we will
get employers to understand the cost of failing to implement flexible and family-friendly
policies. This will highlight the cost of recruiting for vacancies because they
cannot retain staff."

Speaking at the TUC’s About Time conference, Hewitt said she would have
"failed" if a "serious inroad" into reducing long hours in
five years has not been achieved.

"It is a hugely important subject that can increase productivity,
workforce gender diversity and the conditions that our children grow up in. We
need to change attendance in the workplace. We must find a way to increase
productivity, retain pay and reduce hours," she said.

"Fair standards and the rights of all need to be balanced with the need
to raise productivity. It is a challenge that we together – the Government,
employers and trade unions – can meet."

By Paul Nelson

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