Government efforts to make working time law more flexible for employers are
set to be thwarted following a ruling by the Advocate General of the European
As Secretary of State for Trade & Industry Stephen Byers made his
long-awaited change to the UK law just before Christmas, giving more freedom to
employers, the Advocate General ruled that rights to a shorter working week
should be strengthened.
The new ruling contradicts the Government’s definition of working time, by
including hours spent on-call under some conditions. The Advocate General’s
view is nearly always backed by the European Court of Justice.
Confirmation by the court would force the Government into yet another
rewrite of the regulations which came into force only 15 months ago.
"This threatens to be a case of massive significance," said Chris
Mordue, solicitor at leading law firm Pinsent Curtis. "If the European
Court of Justice upholds this – the most fundamental issue under the law – what
counts as working time – will need to be reconsidered."
Employers with large numbers of staff on call – utilities, health and other
emergency services – reacted with alarm. Motoring organisation AA said it
detracts from the idea of having staff on call. Philippa Stokes, employee
relations manager at the firm, said the change would make it "extremely
difficult for employers trying to run a business".
Byers’ amendment was approved by Parliament before Christmas. The new
regulations scrap record-keeping for those who have opted out of the 48-hour
limit and discount voluntary unpaid extra work. Explanatory guidance has still
not appeared, but is due by the end of January.
The move was welcomed by the CBI, which said its members had expressed relief
and delight at the greater flexibility.
The Advocate General was ruling on a case brought by Spanish health union
Simap. ADTIspokesman said, "The UKdoes believe that its interpretation is
correct but we will look at the opinion and wait for the ruling.
By News Team