The TUC has accused the government of ‘brinkmanship’ in its efforts to stop the EU from withdrawing the opt-out to the Working Time Directive (WTD).
The opt-out allows individual staff to choose whether to work more than 48 hours a week.
EU employment ministers were set to make a decision on 2 June on removing the clause, after the European Parliament voted in May to scrap the opt-out by 2012.
But enough ministers opposed the plan to prevent the vote taking place. The issue now returns to the parliament and the question is likely to drag on for months.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the UK’s long hours’ workers would be the main losers from this “political brinkmanship”.
“UK ministers have made the mistake of going to the last ditch on behalf of the CBI,” he said. “It is no surprise that the EU is in crisis when a small UK-led minority can block this compromise on working time.
“The commission proposals already went a very long way to meeting employer concerns – far more than the much more balanced position put forward by the parliament.
“This does not settle the issue. Other member states who wanted a compromise that met their concerns about on-call working, particularly in the health sector, will not be satisfied with this delay,” Barber said.