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Abolition Of The UK's 48 Hour Week 'Opt Out' Far From Certain

Reports of the ending of the UK's Opt-out from the Working Time Directive may be premature warns the CWU's National Health, Safety & Environment Officer Dave Joyce.

Writing to all CWU Branches this week, Dave gave a brief outline of the history of this peice of legislation which successive UK government's have managed to opt out of, with many employers ignoring the legislation altogether.

In LTB1010/08 Dave writes:

On June 8th the UK government reached agreement with the Council of Ministers of other Member States to keep its opt-out from the 48 hour week subject to no more than 60 hours on average a week when calculated over a period of three months or 65 hours where there is no collective agreement and when the inactive period of on-call time is considered as working time.
However, on 5th November, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee voted to overturn the deal and axe the UK's opt out from the Working Time Directive, in the first stage of the EU Parliament's review of the Working Time Directive.
The revised Working Time Directive then returned to the EU Parliament for a second reading yesterday which agreed that the maximum working time in the EU should be 48 hours a week, and that member states, such as the UK, with opt-outs from this rule should remove them by 2011.
Not unexpectedly the decision was greeted with horror by British Industry leaders from the British Chambers of Commerce, CBI, IOD, EEF etc.

The TUC and all major Unions welcomed the vote and hailed the decision as a major blow against Britain's long-hours culture. The Unions have long argued that it's a health and safety issue and that tired, overstretched, stressed out workers are not productive workers and are putting themselves and others at risk, such as in the transport industry where we know, for instance, that tired drivers are more dangerous than drunk drivers. The TUC says UK workers put in the longest hours in Europe. Thousands of trade union members marched on the European Parliament to urge an end to the opt-out, ahead of Wednesday's vote.

However - it does not end there! and the outcome is still far from certain!

The UK Government has publicly stated that it is determined to keep the opt-out and will now start talks with EU ministers in an effort to keep it. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson was defiant after the vote and stated that the UK Government remained determined to protect the opt out in spite of the vote adding that Millions of employees and businesses in the UK and across Europe have benefited from freedom of choice on working hours for many years. A decision is expected early next year following "conciliation" talks with the European council of ministers.

The final decision, likely to be made by next spring would be taken by a qualified majority vote.

The UK does not have a veto on the issue but it is expected to join forces with other countries who back its position in order to get its way. A number of MEPs said the UK would be overruled, supporting the parliament's vote. However, EU Labour MEP Leader Gary Titley, who voted to keep the opt-out was of the view that the most likely outcome was that the talks would end in stalemate and the UK opt-out would continue.

Source: CWU

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