Gerry Sutcliffe, the employment relations minister, has warned a parliamentary committee to be wary of trade unions distorting the impact of the Working Time Directive in the UK.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee on Employment Reg-ulation, Sutcliffe said that the opt-out had become a bit of a "cause clbre".
"The charge from the trade unions is that in certain sectors, there are abuses [of the opt-out]. Tell us where the abuses are, and we'll put conditions in place to stop it," he said.
"What you tend to see is that [trade unions] will cherry-pick some of the best, in their terms, European legislation, but they won't tell you the whole picture.
"They will say that it is easier to get rid of someone in the UK than elsewhere in Europe. That is not the case," he said. "It is quicker, but it is not easier, and it is not more cost effective."
Sutcliffe said that the Working Time Directive should be viewed in relation to other European legislation, such as the Information and Consultation Directive, to get an accurate picture of its effect.
Under the Working Time Reg-ulations 1998, adults have the legal right to refuse to work more than an average of 48 hours a week, including overtime, calculated over a reference period of 17 consecutive weeks.
The UK opt-out means an adult may agree to work more than an average of 48 hours a week, so long as they do so voluntarily and in writing, without any pressure from the employer.