TUC on EU working time rules decision

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date: 7 November 2006

embargo: Immediate

Commenting on the failure of the Social Affairs Council of the EU to agree today on plans to tighten up on the use of opt-outs from the 48-hour week, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

'This was a missed opportunity to ensure that UK workers are properly protected against the dangers of overwork. The trend in the UK is now towards a slow decline in long hours working. New legal rights would have speeded up that process without hitting economic success.

'Because the UK Government would not support a compromise today to phase out the UK's opt-out it is now likely to face legal action on the way that on-call time is treated in UK law.

'But the government is not off the hook. It is clear there is widespread ignorance of working time rights, extensive employer abuse of the opt-out and precious little enforcement of working time rules. The TUC will step up its campaign to bring the UK into line with existing EU law.

'Although the legal approach is not the only way to counter our long hours culture. We will continue to work with government and employers to shift the culture of UK workplaces and attack the poor productivity and work organisation that long hours working covers up.'

The TUC's analysis of unpublished findings from the Government's Labour Force Survey, published today showed that removing the opt-out would have had little economic effect:

  • Only 800,000 to 1 million UK employees would have had to make a serious change to their working patterns if the opt-out was ended, but many of these work excessively long hours with at least 130,000 regularly putting in more than 60 hours a week.
  • The number of UK employees working more than 48 hours has declined by 17.5 per cent since the 1998 peak of 4.0 million, 700,000 fewer employees are now working long hours.
  • The incidence of long hours workers has declined in every industry, occupation and region, although the pattern of improvement is very uneven, with some sectors doing much better than others.
  • Because of the growth of some jobs and industries there are more long hours workers in some of them, but even here the proportion doing long hours has fallen.
  • Starting from a higher baseline, the decline of long hours working has been much sharper in the private sector.
  • A third of UK employees who work more than 48 hours per week are only working one or two extra hours per week.
  • Under the deal that failed today up to a million UK employees would have continued to be exempt from the 48-hour limit. These are mostly 'autonomous workers' - largely senior managers and professionals who genuinely control their own hours.
  • The deal also included increasing the period for averaging the 48-hour limit from 17 weeks to 52 weeks. This would have excluded about 1.5 million UK long hours workers from the coverage of the 48-hour week, since they do not sustain their excessive working time over the full year.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Register for the TUC's press extranet : a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet

- A series of TUC rights leaflets are available on our website and from the know your rights line 0870 600 4 882. Lines are open every day from 9am-9pm. Calls are charged at the national rate.

Contacts:

Media enquiries: Ben Hurley T: 020 7467 1248; M: 07881 622416 ; E: bhurley@tuc.org.uk
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248; M: 07778 158175; E: media@tuc.org.uk

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