Special report: working time opt-out

Personnel
Today’s joint research with the Employment Lawyers’ Association reveals how and
why employers use the UK’s Working Time opt-out

Two-thirds
of employers in the UK ask their workers to opt out from the Working Time
Directive, allowing them to work more than 48 hours a week.

Personnel
Today’s exclusive survey, in conjunction with the Employment Lawyers
Association, reveals for the first time the extent to which employers use the
opt-out to react to seasonal demands and combat skills shortages.

The
survey findings will be handed to the European Commission, which is currently
reviewing the UK’s opt-out from the Working Time Directive, secured in 1993.

From
the results, it is clear the removal of the opt-out would force UK
organisations to radically change how they operate.

More
than 70 per cent of employers in our survey who are using the opt-out, believe
their competitiveness in the UK would be damaged if it was removed, 74 per cent
report it would increase the cost of employing agency staff and 78 per cent
that it would adversely affect staff rostering.

Elaine
Way, president of the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management
(AHHRM), is in no doubt that if the EC decides to remove the opt-out, it will
cause significant practical difficulties for NHS employers.

"Many
staff are used to the additional income from working longer hours and we would
be concerned that if we constrain them, they might seek additional employment
outside the NHS," she said. "It would then be more difficult to
ensure a limit to their total hours."

Other
sectors that would be severely affected by the removal of the opt out are
construction and manufacturing, where more than 80 per cent of companies would
be damaged.

The
survey reveals that more than 80 per cent of employers think their efficiency
would suffer if the opt-out is removed and a further 64 per cent think their
wages bill would increase.

CBI
policy adviser Jay Seth told Personnel Today the opt-out was vital to UK
business and the CBI would lobby strongly to retain it.

He
said: "The Working Time Directive gives people the right to say ‘no’ to
working extra hours. But having the existing individual opt out from the
48-hour limit also gives people the right to say ‘yes’. The CBI will vigorously
defend that right."

By
Quentin Reade

HR
wants staff working time averaged over year

Three-quarters
of UK employers believe the 48-hour week should be averaged over a full year
rather than the 17-week period in the Working Time Directive if the UK’s
opt-out is removed.

The
survey reveals employers think that if they lose the opt-out, they would be
better equipped to deal with fluctuating demand if they could average staff
working hours over a much longer period.

Peter
Martin, director of employment policy at the Engineering Employers Federation,
said this would help maintain flexibility and allow for seasonal work.

"A
lot of businesses are cyclical, with intense activity being followed by quieter
periods. And this is not just true of manufacturing, it is experienced by
retailers and service providers as well. Averaging a 48-hour week over 52 weeks
rather than 17 would suit companies interested in flexible structures, such as
annualised hours."

Bruce
Warman, personnel director of Vauxhall, said his company would need to average
working time over 52 weeks if the opt-out was lost, to allow for production
variances.

He
said the business would suffer if it were restricted to the 17-week period.

"There
would be an extra cost. We would need to decide whether to employ extra staff
or not make cars. We may be better off to make the cars in Germany, where we
have extra production capacity."

Respondents
also said they wanted more clarity over the definition of working time (83 per
cent), and a simpler mechanism for getting workforce agreements to flexible
working hours in non-unionised companies (71 per cent).

Hard-hitting
effect on construction

Hall
Construction Services would suffer skills shortages and increased costs if the
European Commission removes the UK’s opt-out, warns its personnel manager.

Peter
Conner, pictured above, said a decision to remove the opt-out would hit not
just his firm, but the entire industry. "It will radically affect the
industry. Removing the opt-out will cause major problems and have a devastating
effect."

Hall
employs between 250 and 300 staff and works on a variety of construction
projects, from stadiums to bridges and roads.

Conner
said that all of the firm’s employees sign the opt-out and typically work between
55 and 60 hours a week.

He
said the opt-out increases the flexibility and productivity of his workforce.

Workers
at Hall are being kept informed about the potential changes, as they would
directly impact on earning power.

"Individuals
have mortgages and loans that they are committed to," Conner said.
"This change will potentially restrict earnings.

"Workers
may start moonlighting or move to other types of employment to minimise the
effect," he added.

"The
industry will lose personnel and we are already short. I hate to think that it
will be introduced."

Feedback
from the profession


Kate Brankin HR manager at utilities services company Alhco, said:
"Removal of the opt-out would have a significant impact on our business,
particularly our costs. As a result, it would affect our ability to bid for
contracts.

"It
is not just the extra labour costs, it is all the sundries. For example, we
would have to supply more of our staff with their own van.

"I
think it should be down to an individual’s choice how long they work. We
certainly don’t force our staff to sign the opt-out. People rely on the
overtime."


Peter Vanson personnel manager at Automotive Precision Components, said: "We
would have to restructure our shift system and employ more people if the
opt-out was removed.

"Ninety
per cent of our workers sign the opt-out. They want the money. People working
routine jobs here work 50-55 hours a week over six days."


Gavin Traill HR manager for Holiday Inn Kings Cross/Bloomsbury, said: "We
are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and as staff turnover in the hotel
industry tends to be higher than in many other industries, it is only through
staff working additional hours that we are able to deliver the level of service
we need.

"Being
able to give people extra hours when required also helps us solve the problem
of dealing with fluctuating demand."


Brian James director of personnel at Mission Care, an organisation which
provides residential carers and nurses, said: "We would have to work
harder at filling gaps if the opt-out was removed. It would create a more
transient workforce and this would affect care, because there would be a lack
of continuity.

"If
we didn’t give someone an extra shift which they wanted, they will pick it up
at a hospital. Our costs would definitely increase."


Bram Fischer, divisional HR manager at Nampak, said: "We make plastic
bottles. In one area of our business it is incredibly competitive, with 200 players
in Europe, so losing the opt-out would significantly affect our ability to
compete.

"Removal
of the opt-out would also mean manning for peaks would cost us, and would mean
we would have times when people would do very little."


Valerie Ritchie, HR manager at Whitelink Seafoods, said: "We have low
unemployment in this area at the moment and so already find it hard to get the
staff we need.

"Without
the opt-out we couldn’t be competitive, we couldn’t keep up with demand, and we
would lose contracts.

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