It has been a long time coming but at a meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 10 June EU Ministers finally agreed on the text for two new Directives, one on agency workers and one to revise the existing Directive on working time.

The EU has been trying for a number of years to broker a deal on these controversial topics but it was left to the Slovenian Presidency to put together a text that was agreeable to (almost) everybody.

On the issue of working time, Member States agreed to allow countries to retain the 48-hour opt-out provision but only under certain strict conditions designed to ensure the effective protection of workers’ health and safety. Workers’ agreements to opt-out of the 48-hour working time limit will only be valid for one year at a time and workers will be protected from any detrimental treatment from their employer for withdrawing their agreement. Furthermore, any attempt to get a worker to opt out at the start of employment will generally be null and void. Employers will be required to maintain up-to-date records of all workers who opt out.

The proposed draft of the new Directive also distinguishes between “active” and “inactive” on-call time and makes it clear that only active on-call time will count for working time purposes. This clears up the confusion following the ECJ’s rulings in the Simap (C-303/98) and Jaeger (C-151/02) cases.

The agreed text for the new Directive on agency workers provides that such workers will be entitled to equal treatment from the first day of an assignment unless there is an agreement in place between trade union and employers’ organisations in the relevant Member State. In the UK, for example, the CBI and the TUC have recently agreed that the principle of equal treatment should only apply after the first 12 weeks of an assignment.

The text of the two new Directives will now be submitted to the European Parliament for consideration.