Some of the leading voices in manufacturing are urging the European Parliament to allow Britain to continue to opt-out of the 48-hour maximum working week so that people here can work for longer.
The latest vote on the various long-running bones of contention to have defiled the EP’s Working Time Directive is due tomorrow. One such subject of discord is whether or not individuals should be able to exert their own right to disregard the maximum working-week.
The directive is supposed to ensure that companies cannot force workers do to more hours than they want to (over and above 48) and also ensures workers are afforded at least four weeks paid annual leave and have a rest period of at least 11 hours per 24-hour cycle.
John Cridland, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “Some people want to work more than 48 hours a week and some do not. We think this should be your choice. Unfortunately, some MEPs in Brussels think they should make the choice for you.
“The ban on longer hours could create particular problems in tough economic conditions. Workers in a company fighting for survival who wanted to go the extra mile could be stopped from doing so. People who want to work longer hours to help support their family in hard times could also be denied this right.”
The rule currently in place in the UK is that individuals can work for more than 48 hours in any given week as long as the excessed is compensated for and a 48-hour average is established over 17 weeks.
Angela Coleshill, HR director of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said:
“FDF supports the UK’s right to keep its opt-out from EU curbs on working hours. We believe that the opt out to the working time directive’s 48-hour maximum working week is vital to Britain’s labour market flexibility and losing the ability to opt out would limit the extent to which workers can boost their earning potential.”
“Given the increasingly challenging economic climate,” she added, “a decision to remove the opt-out would significantly reduce the flexibility of businesses and their ability to adapt to the pressures these circumstances generate. It would also remove a source of competitive advantage that has been crucial in allowing businesses across the UK to prosper and grow in recent years. FDF believes that losing the opt-out would significantly reduce the attractiveness of the UK as a place to do business.”
She went on to point to the seasonal nature of demand for food and drink manufacturing firms and said it was “vital that FDF’s members are able to respond flexibly to customer demand in busy periods.”
Britains work an average of 41.4 hours every week which is up from 40.7 in 2006. The agreed average is 37.3 hours, suggesting most people do around four hours of overtime a week. Only Bulgaria and Romania work more hours; both recording an average of 41.7 hours per person.
France has the lowest actual working week with an average of 37.7 hours.
A UK average of 24.6 paid holiday days per year also puts us toward the bottom of the 27 European Union member states. Swedes get the most days off; 33 days per year paid on average.
Malta is said to be another leading advocate of de-restricting how long people can work.