The UK has retained its opt-out from the Working Time Directive for the time being, following a meeting of EU employment ministers in Luxembourg last week.
The government successfully argued to keep the opt-out from the directive, which aims to limit the working week to 48 hours.
Trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson gained enough support from other member states to prevent a decision being taken, with the issue now likely to drag on until 2006.
The meeting followed a vote in May by the European Parliament, which was supported by Labour MEPs, in favour of phasing out the opt-out clause.
Johnson persuaded EU ministers that the UK has a high level of employment, individual working hours were dropping, and that restricting hours would have a detrimental effect on business and labour market flexibility.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber accused the government of “political brinkmanship”, and of favouring employers over the interests of UK workers.
However, business leaders were pleased the government stood firm. David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the decision was “good news for business and for Europe’s future prosperity”.
Last week, a TUC poll revealed that almost one in three workers said long hours or stress had stopped them taking up some training in the past three years.