The news that the European Parliament is inching ever closer to scrapping the opt-out clause in the Working Time Directive is a stinging blow to UK business.
Last week, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee voted to remove the individual opt-out by 2010, meaning employees would no longer have the option of working more than 48 hours a week.
To many in the HR profession, this is a bunch of Brussels busybodies meddling in things that really don’t concern them, and is a move that appears to be hurting more people than it is protecting.
Not that anyone should nurture a long-hours culture, but removing the opt-out would put shackles on labour market flexibility and cripple competitiveness and productivity.
It would also pose a serious recruitment dilemma that, with current chronic skills shortages in so many areas of industry, is a costly burden HR can do without.
Those of you working in small and medium-sized businesses will feel bruised much more than those in larger organisations, which can more easily toughen it out.
There is a glimmer of hope as the committee’s decision is not final; the European Parliament still needs to vote on it – and hopefully overturn it – in the plenary session. It is also reassuring that UK government will staunchly defend the right to retain the opt-out.
But there is an enormous opportunity here for HR to show its real value to the bottom line by helping to shape company strategy for coping with these regulations, and devising creative solutions to a problem that shouldn’t have arisen in the first place.
If you haven’t got a policy in place yet, then now’s the time to get started. It is not a battle we have chosen to fight. But to stand the strongest chance of survival, we must ensure we are kitted out with robust armour.