11/02/2004

Move to end workers' long hours slammed by CBI

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has strongly criticised the European Parliament today after MEPs voted to stop employees working more than 48 hours a week.

The employers' association will this afternoon use an appearance before a House of Lords select committee to set out the case for keeping the UK's right to opt out of the EU working time directive.

The prohibitive decision has alarmed business leaders who are concerned that it sends a signal that the European Commission supports the trade union campaign on the issue, the CBI warned.

The Working Time Directive limits working hours for most people to an average of 48 hours a week. Currently, four million people work more than 48 hours a week on average – 700,000 more than in 1992 when there was no long hours protection, according to the Labour Force Survey.

Around 1-in-6 of British workers now work over 60 hours a week compared to just 1 in 8 (12%) of all UK workers in 2000.

Susan Anderson, CBI Director of Human Resources Policy, said the move would be "a serious blow to the individual's right to govern their own time and to the flexibility employers value".

She said: "People don't want the EU interfering with the details of their everyday lives. They want the freedom to make their own decisions about the hours they work.

"Under current law, nobody can be forced to work more than 48 hours a week. The 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 claimed.

However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has welcomed the move as it "increases the pressure" on Europe to end the UK opt-out.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, said: "The opt-out means that the Working Time Directive has had little, if any, impact on working hours in the UK. We still work the longest hours in Europe. One in three who have signed an ‘opt-out’ say they were given no choice, and nearly two out of three who work more than 48 hours a week have not even been asked to sign an opt-out.

"It’s about time we started running workplaces more efficiently so that very long hours are no longer needed."

Responding to claims that many UK employers are forcing staff to sign opt outs, Susan Anderson said: "Nobody has presented convincing evidence that large numbers of employees feel exploited or coerced. Indeed, claims of widespread abuse are wildly exaggerated."

The CBI said that it was trying to deal with employee concerns by joining discussions on the issues with the TUC and the government.

(gmcg)

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