EEF warns that 48-hour working time opt-out war is far from won

The battle over the right to keep the UK’s opt-out of the 48-hour working week may have been won, but employers should brace themselves for a war come the autumn, experts have warned.

The UK secured a deal to keep its opt-out from the Working Time Directive last week when EU member states voted to allow the exemption. However, there will be a review of the opt-out some time in the next eight years.

However, when the proposal goes before the EU parliament later this year, it will face steep opposition, according to David Yeandle, deputy director of employment at manufacturers’ organisation the EEF. “There’s quite a battle left to be fought,” he told Personnel Today.

“The most worrying aspect of all is that it’s by far no means the end of the game. Following discussions I’ve had with parliamentarians in Brussels, there will be a lot of pressure in September or October from some countries to unpick parts of the deal.”

Martin Warren, head of employment law at law firm Eversheds, said: “I think the opt-out will remain as contentious in eight years time as it is now. Ultimately, while the announcement brings an element of relief for employers, it will undergo heavy scrutiny later this year, and if it gets through the EU parliament, it will probably be as good as it gets.”

Employers will have to renew opt-out agreements every year, something Warren saw as potentially causing “serious administrative issues”.

“The government’s hard-won deal now runs the danger of being ripped apart by socialist MEPs who have for years been waiting for these controversial dossiers to return to the European Parliament,” added Liz Lynne, Liberal Democrat MEP and spokeswoman on employment and social affairs.

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