Thursday, May 12, 2005

The working time directive business

It's big news, the European Parliament's vote (378 to 262) to remove Britain's opt out from the working time directive. But the focus has largely been on the fact that Labour's MEPs voted with the Socialist group in the EP rather than follow the party's official line, which was to maintain more flexibility. As this blog is nominally supposed to have a bit of an EU focus, have some:

There have been scare stories of understaffing and job cuts if a 48 hour maximum week is imposed, and scare stories of overworked and knackered doctors and firefighters and whathaveyous if it isn't.

To be honest, I can see the merits of both sides of the argument. No regulations on working hours and employees can continue to be exploited (a certain person sitting not too far from me being obliged by contract to work as many hours as are needed to get the job done - without overtime pay); regulations on working hours and overly keen employees who have the luxury of getting overtime may miss out on extra pay.

Tricky, though I am beginning to lean towards the opinion of the eurosceptic Scotsman on this one. I also reckon it should be more than possible to prevent employee exploitation without putting caps on the number of hours they can work via better regulation of other areas of employment contracts. Because, let's face it, when you're offered a job you'll often sign up for pretty much anything - if you don't, someone else will.

Britain now has to gain a bit of extra support from our EU friends to get the thing thrown out at the Council of Ministers and then it'll take three years to come into force, so it's not over yet. Perhaps by the time that it is I'll understand it all a bit better...

More at the European Parliament, EU Observer and The Financial Times. There's also a handy working time directive Q&A from the Guardian.

3 Comments:

Blogger ken said...

I was surprised to learn that this applied to the employee not the employer. If I employ somebody for 30 hours they are only allowed to work in another job to make up the difference to 48 hours total. If this is correct it seems more of an imposition on workers that on employers.

5/12/2005 06:19:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Me too. I can see the reasoning behind it, but what happens if an employee WANTS to work more than 48 hours, yet the employer ends up in a position that they can't pay them after the 48th for fear of prosecution? Very odd...

Of course, the easy get-out is to scrap any kind of payment by an hourly rate. How are they going to be able to work out how many hours of freelance work I do a week? And how can they tell how long anyone's actually working for if you scrap the clocking in/clocking off system?

To avoid penalties, employers could end up introducing systems which would be even worse for employees than the current situation. Being, as I am, employed on a set rate and expected to work for as long as it takes to hit the deadlines, I can easily see how unscrupulous employers could exploit the situation.

Though it has its plus points and good intentions and all the rest, it doesn't seem like a very good idea, this thing, it has to be admitted.

5/12/2005 08:52:00 pm  
Anonymous Valerie said...

Basically, if you want to work more than 48 hours, you're not allowed (under the parliament's proposals, which were the ones introducd by the Employment and Social Affairs Committee)
The thing is that we already have a statutory maximum working week - 48 hours - which covers us fine for compliance with things like the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which says everyone has to have the right to limited working hours. However, if I choose to sign away that right, it's my own business (or should be). OK, I admit that ways of curbing rampant abuse should exist (employer forcing employee to sign waiver and so on). In fact the original Commission proposals were trying to do that, before parliament went and changed them by adding this total ban. Still, as you say, it'll never get past the council - too many member states against the scrapping. However, reading the French press on this today you can see it's going to become a real showdown, whatever happens.

5/12/2005 11:57:00 pm  

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