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26 February 2005

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EU recognises global demands for UK business


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After extensive consultation across Europe, the European Commission this month  adopted a proposal to update key aspects of the Working Time Directive. The Commission described the changes as 'a balanced package of inter-related measures which retains the principal objective - health and safety of workers - while responding to the needs of the modern European economy.'

Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce


As a result of the changes the individual opt-out from the 48 hour week will remain possible, but be subject to stricter conditions to prevent abuse. Member States will be given the possibility to extend the reference period for calculating the 48-hour maximum working week from four months to a year. Time spent on call that is not worked would not be counted as working time, with compensatory rest granted within 72 hours.

Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "This proposal will address shortcomings in the present system, demonstrated in the course of its application. It is a balanced package of measures that protect the health and safety of workers whilst introducing greater flexibility and preserving competitiveness."

Commenting on the recent announcement, David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said: "We welcome the European Commission’s proposal to retain the opt-out. The Commission appears to have finally woken up to the fact that British business is competing with companies not just in Birmingham and Barcelona but also in Beijing. Flexibility is what UK business craves.

"While we accept that stricter conditions are needed to prevent abuse of employees, we have very real concerns that unions could veto an individual’s choice to work longer hours."

"BCC have always strongly supported an effective and genuine opt-out of the 48-hour working week. We know it contributes to the UK’s flexible labour market and benefits employers and employees.

"We also welcome the Commission’s decision to extend the reference period to 52 weeks. This will make it easier for many employers to cover unexpected or seasonal rises in demand.”

Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, John Bridge OBE added: "In speaking to our members about the Working Time Directive it was clear that it was unworkable for many of them particularly the small to medium sized companies which rely on employees making their own choice to work longer hours. As long as employees are genuinely free to choose to work long hours, and are protected through health and safety at work, we feel this is a real step in the right direction that will avoid imposing unreasonable constraints on companies, particularly SMEs.

"We are particularly glad to see that where individual consent is concerned, the workers agreement has to be given in writing after completion of a probationary period. Furthermore, it is beneficial that this agreement is renewable so the employee will be free to end the agreement should they wish.”

September 2004

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