Trade union Amcus has challenged the validity of the Government's working time laws. Do they follow the spirit of the European legislation - and are they up to the job of protecting workers?
Director of employment policy, BT
Health and safety was certainly at the heart of the directive and there are some issues there. It is not from the point of view of things such as working with machinery, because those areas are adequately covered by other legislation. The real concern was curbing the trend in office workers' time which, particularly in the 1980s, was beginning to go through the ceiling.
The opt-out clause doesn't really go against the spirit of the directive if it is used sensibly. At BT we use some opt -outs, but only in exceptional circumstances for operational need. In most industries there is a point where it is critical that service continues - the 999 service being a prime example - so you need to reconcile a need in terms of service provision with the rights of the individual worker. That is best left to sensible implementation by the employer with the worker.
One problem I have with the directive is that it is quite restrictive. At BT, we're trying to offer people flexibility and more choice in how they work - to give them control and the opportunity to balance their working life with their personal life. That is a clear move away from telling people they can only work a certain number of hours between certain times.
A lot of our staff want to work longer hours over fixed periods so they can 'time bank' and have that time off later.
We also operate a Freedom to Work scheme, where thousands of BT employees now work on an output basis. The line manager and the individual agree on what needs to be delivered, when it should be delivered and to what quality and it is then up to the individual to decide when and where they will work. As a result, we have people working all sorts of hours, because that's what suits them.
We're not comfortable with anything that is prescriptive because one of the biggest messages we get back from our people is that stress is created by not having control. Giving that control has resulted in huge productivity increases, as well as increases in customer and employee satisfaction.
The Working Time Directive has its place, but there is also a place for growing good practice in te