HR Professionals Reject UK Working Time 'Opt Out'

According to a survey by a leading business consultancy group, around three in five human resource professionals would back EU measures to restrict company employees' working to a maximum of 48 hours a week.

The recent survey carried out by Croner, one of the UK's leading providers of business information, advice and support, found that 61% of respondents thought employers should not be able to ask employees to work more than the set limit of hours.

The survey comes as the EU begins a three-month consultation on revising the Working Time Directive, which, in the UK, has allowed employees to opt out from the 48 hour weekly working limit imposed when the Directive came in to force in 1998.

Employment law expert at Croner, Richard Smith, said: "It's perhaps surprising to find that a large proportion of businesses we surveyed are happy to see a wholesale limit imposed on the length of time they can ask their employees to work.

"A lot of companies tell us they feel they need to be able to ask certain essential staff groups to work more than the suggested maximum number of hours in order to keep the business viable, and the EU consultation document itself suggests that this happens most often within the UK.

"However, our survey also shows that many firms are increasingly keen to support the rights of employees to go home at a reasonable time and enjoy their private life.

"This a positive indication that work-life balance is being taken seriously by employers, and there is a strong case to say it could make employees more productive and motivated."

He said that UK workers on average have the longest working hours in the EU, and giving employers the right to ask their staff to work more than the statutory number of hours could make staff feel like they have no option but to agree.

He added: "The subsequent fear might then be that if, in the future, a downturn in business meant that redundancies were necessary, the employee's refusal to agree to work longer hours would be remembered and they would be first in line for being let go.

"The Directive does state that the 48 hour week should be 'on average,' and employees are usually aware that, in today's business world, a degree of flexibility can be required to ensure business success. They know that, occasionally, they may need to put in extra hours to get an important job done and are usually happy to do so."


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