The European Union's (EU) revamped Working Time Directive was to be finally agreed this summer, but it all fizzled out in June, and to all intents and purposes, we're back to deadlock again.
The chief point at issue here of course is the UK's opt-out from the provision setting a maximum working week of 48 hours and laying down minimum holiday, rest and night work periods.
It's been an article of faith for more than a century in UK trade union circles that there should be legal limits on the number of hours worked. Employers disagree, arguing that the opt-out from the EU law is one of the main reasons for the UK's labour flexibility and its recent economic success.
In May, after several months of heated debate, the European Parliament voted by 378 votes to 262 to phase out the opt-out by 2012. MEPs from Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta joined with some from the UK to vote against, but all 19 UK Labour MEPs voted to end the opt-out - breaking with Tony Blair's government.
The directive subsequently went to the EU Council of Ministers in early June, where senior ministers considered a European Commission compromise, proposal to continue the opt-out for three years after implementation of the directive and then allow member states to request an extension in respect of years after 2012.
However, this would be at the discretion of the commission "for reasons relating to the individual states' labour market arrangements", sparking unease among some member governments and enabling the UK, backed by Germany and some of the EU newcomers, to flatly reject the idea and the compromise deal.
This suited the UK government, which, as the new EU president, can now see to it that the matter is kept off the agenda until 2006 at the earliest.
So where does this leave the opt-out?
"Your guess as good as mine," says MEP Liz Lynne, the Liberal Democrat European Parliament employment spokesperson and member of the parliament's employment committee.
"It could come back next year, but we don't know when. The Council of Ministers has to make a decision, which has to come back to the parliament for a second reading - when we get a chance to table amendments - and then, if there are differences, it goes to conciliation", (the arbitration procedure between MEPs and ministers). "The process is in limbo and unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future," she told Occupational Health.
Despite being part of the