The UK has finally won its right to retain the opt-out to the Working Time Directive.
Talks on the European legislation broke down without agreement for the final time in Brussels last night, meaning employees will be able to continue to work more than 48-hours a week if they choose.
MEPs have been trying since November to limit the amount of hours an employee can work , claiming that many people were being exploited.
But the collapse in talks marks the end of the European Parliament’s proposal to scrap the opt-out in three years.
Employment relations minister Pat McFadden said: “We refused to be pushed into a bad deal for Britain. We have said consistently that we will not give up the opt-out and we have delivered on that pledge.
“Everyone has the right to basic protection surrounding the hours that they work, but it is also important that they have the right to choose those hours.”
Employers will be relieved at the news, as a cap on working hours could have led to staff demanding pay rises to make up the money they would have made under the opt-out.
More than one in 10 employees work beyond 48 hours per week, according to government figures, amounting to three million staff.
David Yeandle, head of employment policy at manufacturers’ body the EEF, said: “Manufacturers will be relieved that they and their employees can now continue to use the individual opt-out from the average 48 hour working week following the collapse of discussions in Brussels last night.
“Retaining the opt-out will help employers to manage working time so that they can respond quickly and efficiently to changing customer demands and enable employees to choose to earn more by working longer hours.” He called on the European Commission not to re-open negotitations.
The opt-out dossier in its current form will be formally axed when the conciliation timetable reaches its official conclusion next month. The European Commission will then decide how to proceed.