There is “no way” the UK will give up its opt-out to 48-hour working week regulations, despite pressure from Brussels, new trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson has insisted.
In his first interview on employment matters since the cabinet reshuffle, Johnson told Personnel Today that the government believed the opt-out from the European Working Time Directive was the “perfect solution”.
“Our argument is that we don’t want a long-hours culture,” he said. “Working hours have gone down; we are working fewer hours. It is a health and safety measure and we have the second-best record on that in the EU. It is about creating jobs.”
Johnson pointed out that other EU countries were now arguing for their own opt-outs.
Earlier this month, MEPs voted to phase out the UK’s opt-out from the Working Time Directive, with most commentators believing the opt-out will have disappeared within three years.
Business groups have branded the decision a “hammer blow” to the UK economy, but unions welcomed it, claiming many employers abuse the regulations.
HR directors have found themselves similarly polarised on the scrapping of the opt-out, with one describing herself as “split down the middle” on the issue.
Angela O’Connor, HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “I feel sorry for organisations, particularly those with seasonal workers, as it is going to be very difficult for them.”
She added: “But on the other hand, it amazes me how shortsighted some organisations are. The idea that performance is somehow linked to how long you stay in the office is ridiculous.”