HR professionals have a unique opportunity to influence the European Commission over the future of the UK's Working Time Directive opt-out by taking part in a ground-breaking survey in this issue.
Personnel Today has teamed up with the Employment Lawyers Association, following a request from the European Commission, to conduct a study in the UK to discover the implications of removing the opt-out provision which allows staff to work longer than 48 hours per week.
The results of the survey will be fed back to Brussels, giving UK employers an unprecedented opportunity to influence decision-making at the heart of Europe.
The European Commission is about to start a review of the directive and the commissioner responsible, Fernando Pereira, wants to find out whether the removal of the opt-out, which applies to the UK only, will damage businesses or tackle the long-hours work culture.
Employment relations minister Alan Johnson, speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, believes the UK must put up a fight to ensure the retention of the opt-out clause in the Working Time Directive, secured in 1993.
"In the current climate the scrapping of the opt-out would be very damaging for productivity - I am sure about that," Johnson said.
"We think the opt-out is good. We think it's a good balance for individuals to have the right to work more than 48 hours, but not be forced to do so."
Research published last week by the Economic and Social Research Council reveals that 40 per cent of large UK organisations currently ask staff to sign the opt-out.
Its removal would hit certain sectors more than others, with the worst affected including construction, catering and the NHS.
Elaine Way, president of the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management, believes the removal of the opt-out would increase staffing shortages for NHS employers. "Removal will undoubtedly present significant practical difficulties for the NHS," she said.
But Alison Holt, chief personnel officer for Leeds City Council, is confident local government employers would be able to cope. "It would cause some HR management problems," she said, "however, I think we could work around them fairly easily."
By Ben Willmott / Paul Nelson
Key facts on the directive
- Working Time Regulations came into force in 1998 and are curre