News that the European Parliament has voted to scrap the UK’s opt-out clause for the Working Time Directive has met with a mixed reaction from employer and employee representatives.
At the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, welcomed the vote and the compromise proposal put forward by the parliament to measure working hours over a longer period. He said: “This is a victory for a common sense compromise on the 48-hour working week.
“It would mean that employers would have to accept that staff could no longer work more than 48 hours a week on average, but unions would have to concede that the average would be calculated over 12 months, not the current 17 weeks.”
Barber said the new proposals would mean nearly two million UK workers who currently work more than 48 hours over a 17 week period would fall below the limit, and only the two million workers putting in extremely long hours all year round would be affected.
“Working more than 48 hours week in, week out, year in, year out is undoubtedly bad for health and productivity. Tired workers are more likely to have accidents and to suffer illness,” he said.
However David Frost, director general at the British Chambers of Commerce feels the proposals would reduce Europe’s competitiveness around the world.
He said: “This vote is a blow for business and for Europe’s future prosperity. It flies in the face of the EU’s decision to focus on growth and jobs and sends a strong message that the European Parliament is not interested in improving Europe’s competitiveness’” he said.
“We urge the UK government and other EU leaders to reverse the Parliament’s decision now that the ball is in their court”
Conservative MEP Philip Bushill-Matthews concurs. He said: “If Europe is serious about reforming its economy to become more competitive, it should be seeking to legislate in favour of flexibility and growth, not in favour of excessive social regulation and red tape.
At law firm Cobbetts, employment partner Ronald Drake said if the motion is passed it will boost the need for temp workers to help cover the gaps left by employees not being able to work excess hours.
“This can only benefit employment businesses and agencies,” he said “ But they, in turn, will need the assurance that their ability to supply flexible labour will not be over restricted by such things as the recently-proposed Agency Workers directive.”
The Agency Workers directive intends to give employment rights and protections to workers who are not employees but who are engaged by agencies on contracts for services.