UK closer to losing the 48-hour opt-out

The
UK has come a step closer to losing its opt-out to the European Working Time
Directive after the European Parliament called for an end to the exemption.

In
a non-binding vote, the European Parliament called on the European Commission
to scrap the opt-out to end what it described as the "widespread and
systematic abuse of the directive" in the UK.

Under
the current arrangements, British workers can choose to work longer than the
maximum 48-hour week in force in all other European countries.

The
EC, which launched its review of the directive last month, has already accused
the UK of having the longest working hours culture in Europe due to its
exploitation of the opt-out.

Employers’
groups have roundly condemned the European Parliament’s vote as a serious blow
to every individual’s right to govern their own time and flexibility.

However,
Caroline McCreath, UK marketing director for HR consultancy DBM, said losing
the opt-out would provide an interesting challenge for HR professionals, as
people strategies would have to change.

"HR
will need to be better at managing people and delivering productivity,"
she said. "HR is already trying to encourage people to take responsibility
for their careers and development – training is now something people choose,
not something that is done to them."

Nigel
Meager, deputy director of the Institute of Employment Studies, said problems
would be minimal and compared the situation to fears over the introduction of
the minimum wage, which proved largely unfounded.

"I
think there will be pockets of pain in the short-run [if the opt-out is
lost]", he said. "But in the long run, the effect will be relatively
benign."

He
said employers should not be encouraged to rely on long-hours regimes and
should instead concentrate on increasing productivity, which in some areas is
up to 30 per cent lower than the European average.

By
Michael Millar

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