Ministers on the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council have reached agreement on changes to the Working Time Directive, and on key provisions of the long-discussed Temporary Workers’ Directive. The text of both directives has still to be redrafted and will need to be approved by the EU Parliament.

On working time, the deal is to allow the opt-out of the 48-hour weekly limit to continue, subject to an overall maximum of 60 hours and certain other safeguards. The amended directive will also provide that inactive on-call time is neither working time nor rest time, which will address the problems raised by the ECJ decisions in the Simap and Jaeger cases.

In relation to temporary workers, the agreement is to allow them full parity in terms and conditions from day one, but to allow derogations by collective or national agreement. In the UK this derogation is likely to reflect the agreement negotiated by Gordon Brown with the unions and the CBI last month, which envisaged a 12-week delay before these rights kick in. Both agreements are vague about the precise extent of these new rights, and in particular there is no mention of whether agency workers with the necessary continuity of service would acquire protection from unfair dismissal, or entitlement to a redundancy payment.

The CBI has accepted this deal with the unions in relation to temporary workers as the “least worst outcome”, where agency workers will be guaranteed the same pay and holiday entitlements after 12 weeks as their permanent colleagues. The proposals will not cover sick pay or occupational pension rights.