The UK’s position on the Working Time Directive (WTD) is said to be “in safe hands” following the appointment of a new civil servant to build a European consensus on the controversial legislation.
Giles Smith has taken up the position of assistant director of working time and Europe at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), following the reassignment of Anne Stuart, who is moving within the DTI.
Smith, previously a private secretary to education secretary Alan Johnson, is tasked with building relationships with other European countries to bolster the UK’s position on the retention of the opt-out to the 48-hour maximum working week.
Stuart was recognised as an effective advocate for the UK position on the opt-out, but David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at manufacturers’ lobby group EEF, said losing her was no cause for alarm for employers. “This is going to be business as usual at the DTI,” he said.
Under the current directive, employees cannot work more than an average of 48 hours a week, unless they agree to opt out – a clause that was secured by the UK government.
The UK has resisted attempts to remove the opt-out from the directive, while members such as France and Sweden have pressed for it to be scrapped.
Four consecutive EU presidencies have failed to break the stalemate on the drawn-out saga, but experts believe that life could be breathed back into the debate after Finland began its 12 months as president in July. Finland is expected to call an extra Employment Council meeting to discuss the topic in October.