Almost 70 per cent of readers responding to our latest Barometer poll think
their labour costs will increase if the 48-hour opt-out is removed from the
Working Time Directive (WTD).
It’s a resounding vote for keeping the opt-out and maintaining the status
quo. But now it’s time to take this crucial issue to the European Commission
The EC has asked the Employment Lawyers Association to conduct research in
the UK to find out how removing the opt-out would affect business. The results
will be fed into the EC’s review of the WTD, with recommendations being made
within 12 months.
So, next week, Personnel Today is joining forces with the Employment Lawyers
Association to run research in both this magazine and on personneltoday.com to
gauge widespread HR opinion. The results will be published in the New Year and
sent immediately to Fernando Pereira, the commissioner responsible in Brussels,
to inform his decision.
Word on the grapevine is that Pereira is leaning towards removal of the
opt-out and it’s a tough call. The UK is the only country not limited to
restricting staff to working a 48-hour week and there are lots of valid
arguments for and against us continuing to be an exception.
On the one hand, too many employees are working ridiculous hours causing
high rates of stress and family breakdown. Nearly four million – mostly men –
work more than 48 hours and 1.25 million work more than 55 hours a week. Our
long-hours culture has not helped productivity and we remain one of the weakest
The counter argument by business is that the UK workforce thrives on the
flexibility of a longer working week and huge chunks of industry could not
exist without it. The transport, hospitality, healthcare and manufacturing
sectors all fear crippling costs, loss of competitiveness and jobs at risk if
the opt-out is removed. And whether you like it or not, we cannot ignore the
fact that the UK has become a 24-hour society in everything we do, including
The future of the working week is under scrutiny and this is a rare
opportunity for HR to connect with the Eurocrats and tell it as it is. That’s
why it is important you take 10 minutes next week to complete the questionnaire
in the magazine or on our website. For your troubles, your details will be
entered into a draw for an overseas weekend break for two to Brussels – that
can’t be a bad quid pro quo can it?
Jane King is editor of Personnel Today