As an employer in an industry involving long working hours, I am concerned about the new EU Treaty and the possibility this may lead to the dreaded Working Time Directive becoming legally binding. I am worried that if this becomes law, staff will cap their hours, which would massively affect our profits. Is there any way to avoid its provisions?
The Working Time Directive was first drafted in 1993 as a way to improve lifestyle and working conditions for EU workers, allowing employees to ‘cap’ their working hours at 48 per week. It is one of the rights contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which, as part of the EU Treaty, has been made legally binding in several member states.
Although the UK is now signed up to the EU Treaty, it has been allowed to opt out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. However, the directive is still enforceable against public bodies, and has been directly implemented in the UK through the Working Time Regulations 1998, covering all employers – so, technically, your staff already have the right to cap their hours.
These regulations have been in force since 1 October 1998, and contain extensive rules about limiting workers’ hours. Generally, employers are under a duty to ensure workers’ hours do not exceed an average of 48 per week, which also contains rules on rest periods, night workers, shift workers and annual leave.
Breaching these regulations can result in a fine for the employer, and/or a claim being issued at an employment tribunal. Should it find a breach of the regulations, the tribunal will make a declaration against you, and you may be required to pay compensation.
It is, therefore, important to consider these regulations when requiring workers to work long hours. It is possible to agree to exclude some of the provisions of the regulations either on an individual or collective basis, and there is no indication at present that the UK will be forced to change its position in this regard. At present there will be no change to the regulations in respect of the new charter, so as long as you abide by the existing regulations there should be no cause for concern.