A ban on UK employees working longer than a 48-hour week looks set to be
recommended by the European Commission.
Its recommendation to the European Parliament, due before the end of the
month, could radically change the way many UK industries – such as logistics,
catering and construction – plan their staffing levels.
The Working Time Directive – adopted in 1993 – allows staff to opt-out of
the limit, but its use has been under review by Europe.
EU employment commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, last week described the way
the UK uses the opt-out as "abusive". And many in the EU believe UK
employers are forcing staff to sign the opt-out and work longer hours.
However, any changes to the directive would require the backing of a
majority of EU member states.
UK trade unions have welcomed indications that the EC is about to crack down
on the opt-out.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "This is very welcome news.
The UK is the only EU country that allows everyone at work to sign away their
working time rights, and there is widespread evidence that this is no free
choice for the majority of long-hours workers."
It is not just the UK that could suffer from changes. The German Government
estimates that a ruling by the European Court of Justice that time spent by
doctors on call at hospitals should count as standard working time could cost
1bn Euros and require 20,000 extra doctors and nurses.