Europe set to call time on UK’s 48-hour week opt-out

Business groups slam vote which puts Britain's exemption from WTD under threat

Business groups have reacted with horror after the European Parliament voted to end Britain’s exemption from the Working Time Directive (WTD) yesterday, putting the UK’s opt-out from the 48-hour week under threat.

As part of a European review into the WTD, lawmakers in Brussels decided that the UK shouldn’t remain the only country in the EU not to limit employees to a 48-hour working week.

The non-binding decision by MEPs threatens to end UK’s opt-out from the regulations, which was gained in 1993 after the British government successfully argued that our labour market wasn’t suited to a 48-hour a week limit on workers.

Business groups attacked the vote, claiming that the WTD would harm UK employers by reducing their flexibility and damaging profits.

Susan Anderson, of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said workers do not want the EU telling them that they cannot work overtime if they wish.

“Under current law, nobody can be forced to work more than 48 hours a week. The current directive correctly allows people to say ‘no’ to long hours and now we must preserve the right to say ‘yes’.

“Failure to save the opt-out will stop thousands of people from working overtime, trigger a huge increase in bureaucracy and put UK firms at a competitive disadvantage compared to EU firms,” she said.

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David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said that he was extremely disappointed that UK Labour MEPs voted against the retention of Britain’s opt-out.

“It is a sorry day when Labour MEPs vote to restrict the individual’s right to work. I’m sure our business members across the country will be expressing their concerns to their local MEPs in the run up to the European Parliamentary election.

“Losing the opt-out will erode the UK’s economic flexibility,” he said.

However, Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), welcomed the decision.

“It increases the pressure on Europe to end the UK opt-out, the only sure way to start to tackle our long hours culture, and leaves the UK looking isolated.

“It’s about time we started running workplaces more efficiently so that very long hours are no longer needed,” he said.


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