The opinion of the European Commission is that the working time opt out which allows British employees to work more than an average of 48 hours per week, should be retained. The Commission has therefore rejected the European Parliament's proposal to abolish the opt out.
There is now a split at European level as to whether or not European Union Member States (including Britain) should be allowed to retain the opt out. The matter will have to go back to the European Parliament and European Council to try and reach agreement on this issue. Therefore, employers do not need to take any action at this stage.
Under the current Working Time Directive, workers in the European Union are subject to a maximum working week of 48 hours.
In 1993, the UK negotiated an "opt out" from this part of the Directive, which permits Member States to allow employees to agree with their employers that they will work longer than 48 hours per week.
Following a review of the Working Time Directive in 2004, the European Council and European Commission proposed amendments to the current Working Time Directive.
In December 2008, when these proposals came before the European Parliament, it voted to abolish the opt out (as reported in our Newsflash of 22 December 2008).
The European Commission has now delivered its opinion on the European Parliament's amendments to its original proposals and has rejected the amendment which would abolish the opt out. The European Commission's view was that present conditions do not allow for the phasing out of the opt out. Any amendments to the Working Time Directive will only become law when the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council agree a common position.
The European Commission's opinion also dealt with several other aspects of the Working Time Directive including:
- The European Parliament's proposal that workers will be unable to agree an opt out during their probationary period of employment was accepted by the European Commission; and
- The European Commission agreed with the European Parliament that workers should be informed by employers "well in advance" regarding any substantial changes to their working hours.