Working time deal shunted to sidelines as EU ministers fail to reach agreement

Attempts to reach an agreement on Europe’s working time directive have again failed following lengthy talks in Brussels yesterday between employment ministers.

UK employers groups have welcomed the news, but the TUC said the failure to reach an agreement was “a missed opportunity”.

The opt-out clause, which permits member states not to abide by a maximum 48-hour working week, was once again the main sticking point.

The Finnish presidency of the EU was the fifth to make an attempt at resolving the ongoing saga, and employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla said he was disillusioned that an agreement had not been reached.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: “This was a missed opportunity to ensure that UK workers are properly protected against the dangers of over-work. The trend in the UK is now towards a slow decline in long-hours working. New legal rights would have speeded up that process without hitting economic success.”

But the CBI said those who argued to end the opt-out did not understand the realities of the modern workplace.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “The ability for individuals to opt out from the 48-hour working week is a vital part of the UK’s flexible labour market. It gives employees choice in the hours they work, letting them earn extra money for their families and giving companies the flexibility they need to deliver to customers and compete in a global economy.”

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