EU votes to bin working time opt-out clause

The European Parliament has voted to bin the opt-out clause in the working time directive.

Citing health and safety grounds, the vote by members of the European Parliament could see the working time directive changed within three-years. However, the EU's Council of Ministers have yet to ratify the decision by the MEPs.

The opt-out clause in the directive, which allows member states to avoid the limits on the EU working week to 48 hours on average, was debated as part of a ten-year review following its introduction in 1993.

Britain was in favour of the retention of an opt-out clause, which allows workers to choose to work more than 48 hours if they wish to do so.

The UK is the only EU country that allows all workers to sign away their right to work no more than 48 hours per work, which the Trades Union Congress (TUC) says is “regularly abused”.

Yesterday General Secretary of the TUC Brendan Barber said that the end of the opt-out clause would help to tackle the problems of the long working hours culture in Britain.

Though, employer’s groups described the proposed amendments to ditch the opt-out as potentially “damaging” as it would remove a “vital component of the flexibility of the UK labour market”.

MEPs voted 378 to 262 in favour of a number of amendments to the working time directive.

Amendments passed would also mean that on-call could be deemed to be working time and has important implications in emergency and medical services.

There is concern that the EU-backed changes could cause staff shortages in the National Health Service where there is traditionally a high component of on-call hours required in staff rosters for clinical and ancillary medical workers posts.


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