Byers delivers eagerly awaited red tape relief

Working time special • European law counters UK drive for looser working
time law

The Government has delivered its promise to employers to lighten the burden
of the Working Time directive by cutting red tape and allowing more people to
work over the 48-hour limit.

The amendments, first revealed by Personnel Today last April, came into effect
on 17 December.

As a result, employers no longer have to log hours worked by staff who have
opted out of the 48-hour week. Employees who have some autonomy over their
hours will be able to work over 48 hours as long as the extra hours are
"voluntary".

The CBI said employers are relieved that the changes have come into effect.

"We have had a steady flow of phone calls and faxes from people saying
‘This is great, it is exactly what we needed. Now we can operate lawfully
without wrapping ourselves up in red tape’," said John Cridland, HR policy
director.

But some employers are unhappy that guidance needed to help them implement
the law is still not published.

It will not be available until the end of January and is intended to help
clarify the grey areas of the law that remain (see below).

"Most employers are going to be waiting for guidance before making any
adjustments to existing policy in response to the amendments," said Steve
Wykes, HR director at Racal Industrial Electronics Group.

Cridland said employers should not expect the guidance to clear up
everything.

"The examples in the draft guidance are helpful but they are only
illustrative. The key word is ‘voluntary’. You can have as many examples as you
want but what really matters is whether the work is genuinely voluntary."

The TUC is dismayed that the amendments are now law. "We already work
the longest hours in Europe and these changes will ensure that the long-hours
culture continues," said a spokeswoman.

By Dominique Hammond


It is unclear who counts as an "autonomous worker" and how
"voluntary" overtime is defined.

When the law came into effect on 1 October 1998 people with the autonomy to
set their own hours were deemed exempt from the law. It was not clear, however,
whether this applied solely to top managers or to other lower-ranking managers.

When the amendments were announced, a new category of people with
"partial autonomy" over their hours was introduced. They would be
covered by holiday and rest break entitlements but could work over the 48-hour
limit as long as the overtime was "voluntary".

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