The Working Time directive has proved largely ineffectual since it was introduced more than two years ago, according to new research.
A survey by the CIPD reveals that 60 per cent of people who worked more than 48 hours a week when they were first interviewed in July 1998 were still doing so.
The findings showed that about a third of those questioned were now working within the 48-hour limit, but only 2 per cent of people surveyed had their hours reduced as a direct result of the regulations.
But the research did reveal that although most employees interviewed still worked beyond the regulations’ limit, those in paid work have reduced their working week by about six hours on average – from 58 hours in July 1998 to 52.
Mike Emmott, adviser on employee relations for the CIPD, said, “I don’t think many people have reduced their hours as a result of the regulations and that was always to be expected.
“Managers and people with senior responsibility will work longer hours because it is in their own interests, they need to be seen to be performing and they will get the rewards.
“On the other hand, people who do not feel they earn enough will work longer hours because they are on a low hourly rate. They will continue to work long hours as long as their income depends on it.”
Emmott thought the Working Time Regulations had helped to raise the issue of sustained long-hours working, but he said there would have to be a change in the work culture in the UK before real progress was made.
Paul Sellers, policy officer for the TUC, said one of the main reasons so many people were still working beyond the 48-hour limit was because of the opt-out clause that allowed employees to voluntarily extend their hours.
He said, “When the opt-out comes up for renewal, the Government should not seek to extend it. The opt-out is allowing people to be persuaded to work long hours.
“On the other side of the coin, long hours are not associated with high productivity. It is well known that productivity falls off the longer you work. People should be working smarter hours, not longer hours.”
By Ben Willmott