On 17 December 2008 members of the European Parliament voted to put an end to the Working Time Directive 48-hour week opt-out, by which employees and workers can agree to work over an average of 48 hours a week.
The majority was significant with 421 votes for the end of the opt-out to 273 against, with some British Labour MEPs defying Gordon Brown’s position on the subject and voting to abolish the opt out, which is now widely used across Europe.
If the opt out were to ultimately go employers would have to ensure employees worked no more than 48 hours in one week, when their hours of work are averaged over a twelve month period. Opponents of the opt-out believe this long reference period will allow sufficient flexibility for businesses to cope with fluctuating levels of work. However, supporters say that in the current economic climate workers need to be able to choose to work longer hours if they so wish.
Further arguments now rage about on-call time and whether it should be counted as working time for the purposes of the 48-hour week. On this subject, the European Parliament supported the proposition that oncall time whether spent at the place of work or not, should be counted as working time.
MEPs will now go into the conciliation process with the European Commission and European Council, both of which have previously been in favour of keeping the optout.
Employers who currently use the opt-out by asking employees to agree to work more than 48 hours a week should be aware that their position may have to change and be ready to plan more carefully for peaks and troughs in levels of work. It remains to be seen how the Commission, the Council and Parliament thrash this out between them but Bite Size will continue to keep readers updated over developments.
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