The debate could not have been more timely, or begun with more impact. As the delegates gathered in a London conference room on 17 December to discuss the potential scrapping of the UK's opt-out from the Working Time Directive (WTD), the call came through: MEPs had voted 421 to 273 to end the UK's exemption, which currently allows staff to voluntarily work more than the 48 hours per week limit.
There was a brief hiatus as everyone called their offices - some to celebrate, others to express their disappointment. It certainly made for a lively debate, which had been organised by Working Time Solutions, a consultancy that provides advice and software to help with work scheduling.
Director of consulting Martin Gee kicked off proceedings by summing up the two sides of the debate. "One view is that the 48 hour restriction is designed to help combat the use of long hours in the workplace, potentially reducing fatigue, stress and accidents," he said.
"The other side of the argument is that the ability to work longer than 48 hours is essential if the UK is to remain flexible, competitive and successful. So there are extremes of thought around the table today," he added.
Representing the former viewpoint was Paul Sellers, working time policy officer at the TUC.
"The main plank of the trade union position is easily stated - if we allow people to opt out of this health and safety law then we're going to be left with unnecessary suffering and death," he said.
"The WTD itself is soundly based on robust research. All the evidence confirms that working long hours increases the risk of developing a wide range of health and safety problems, and squeezes out the time available for family life, which can undermine general wellbeing."
And Sellers questioned whether the opt-out is currently a genuinely free choice.
"Even the government's own studies have identified problems there, including some disturbing facts. For example, 44% of those who have signed the opt-out said it was a condition of their employment, and 23% said they had been put under pressure to sign it. It follows that simply putting tighter conditions on the use of the opt-out