The European Parliament has voted against the UK’s opt-out to the Working Time Directive (WTD) and experts predict it will be gone within three years.
The Institute of Directors has called it a ‘hammer blow to the economy’, saying the MEPs’ voted to scrap it was ‘a policy straight out of the 1970s’.
But Michael Millar finds there is a silver lining for HR, which will also have the opportunity to showcase how vital the function is.
If anyone should be worried about possible changes, it's HR, the front line when it comes to implementing working measures. But a recent survey by Croner Consulting showed that three in five HR professionals thought employers should not be able to ask staff to work more than their set limit of hours.
So are employers wrong to foretell such doom and gloom? It is widely accepted that certain industries would be in real trouble if the opt-out was removed, such as manufacturing, engineering and catering.
David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at the Engineering Employers Federation, said loss or change to the opt-out would inhibit companies' ability to respond to production requirements and anger employees who would be unable to work the hours and earn the money they want.
But these industries seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Instead, it seems that industry is largely unconcerned. Even the health sector, widely believed to live in fear of a loss of the opt-out, believes it would be a problem rather than a catastrophe.
Peter King, executive officer at the Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management, said HR's effectiveness will make or break the system.
"A loss of the opt-out would have an impact as large numbers of people voluntarily work 48 hours-plus [in the healthcare sector]," he said. "But we have more staff in the pipeline and future workforce plans that are predicated on civilised working hours of less than 48 hours."
Tony Gould, managing director of global HR strategy consultancy DBM, agreed that changes to the opt-out could provide HR with a chance to really shine.
"If we have to adhere to the WTD, boards will rely heavily on HR executives to come up with solutions," he said. "If HR executives can demonstrate an understanding of business needs and solut