Working Time opt-out loss could kill off struggling firms, says CBI

A ban on employees working overtime could have dire consequences for struggling businesses, the CBI has warned.

Formal talks restarted yesterday (Wednesday) in Brussels to determine whether the UK can retain its opt out status from the European Working Time Directive, which aims to limit the working week to 48 hours.

A deal has still not yet been reached between the UK government, which wants to retain the opt-out clause, and members of the European Parliament which wants it scrapped.

The EU parliament voted to scrap the opt-out last December, causing much angst among HR directors. The vote went to conciliation for a maximum period of eight weeks, while both the European Council and the European Parliament tried to agree on the future of the opt-out, and the debate is now in its final stages.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general said limited working hours would replace “opportunity with obstruction”.

“Banning longer hours could have unintended consequences,” he said. “It could stop staff in a company that is fighting for survival from going the extra mile, or prevent somebody earning overtime to support their family in hard times. If your partner has lost their job, should Brussels stop you from putting in overtime to support your family?” he added.

The directive is a European Union initiative designed to protect workers from exploitation by employers. It lays down regulations on matters such as how long employees work, how many breaks they have and how much holiday they are entitled to.

The deadlock has exposed a division between Gordon Brown and a majority of his Members of European Parliament (MEPs).

East Midlands MEP Glenis Willmott, Labour’s leader in Brussels, has sided against keeping the opt-out. “Working more than 48 hours per week on a regular basis can pose significant risks to health,” she explained on her blog. “Excessive working time is linked to stress, depression and heart disease. For me it is an important point of principle that exemptions from health and safety law should not be allowed.”

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