Employer representatives have stepped up their vigil over the opt-out clause from the European Union’s maximum 48-hour working week.
Reports have suggested that with Tony Blair ending his reign as UK prime minister, the opt-out clause could be offered up to secure a coup on the EU constitution.
UK businesses have long cherished the ability to sidestep the limit of 48 hours per week set out in the EU Working Time Directive. Five presidencies have failed to broker an agreement on amendments to the directive, with the opt-out clause a major sticking point.
However, Blair is understood to be keen to leave his stamp on the EU by securing a major deal on the draft constitution. And he is reportedly willing to make sacrifices on other directives to make this happen.
Steve Coventry, campaigns adviser at manufacturers’ body the EEF, told Personnel Today: “We are ever watchful. It can be the way the EU works – you think something is dead and buried, then there is a change of leader or circumstance, deals are made and compromises reached. We would be very concerned if it looked like the opt-out could be given up.”
However, Coventry added that he did not believe Blair would use the Working Time Directive to broker a deal on the constitution, saying their were other more contentious issues likely to be used.