Business Groups Welcome Continued 48-Hour Week Opt-Out

Small-business groups have welcomed a ruling by the EU Employment Council to retain UK employers’ right to ask staff to work more than 48 hours a week, writes Tom Whitney

Under the EU’s working time directive, employees are restricted to a maximum working week of 48 hours. However, an opt-out clause allows the UK to permit employees to work a longer week. The rules do not oblige employers to offer overtime or require staff to work it.

The EU Employment Council ruling retains the UK’s 48-hour week opt-out, but restricts employees to working a 60 hour maximum working week, averaged out over three months so they can work longer hours in busy periods. This is a reduction from the current cap of 78 hours per week.

Under the new rules, employers will not be able to ask workers to sign up to work more than a 48-hour week in the first month of employment. Workers cannot be penalised for declining to sign up after that time, or for subsequently withdrawing from an opt-out agreement.

The ruling will have to go through the European Parliament before it is implemented, and is not likely to be introduced until later this year.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) welcomed the ruling.

“It is important that, for small businesses in particular, key members of staff are given the freedom and flexibility to put in the hours that are necessary for success,” said FPB chief executive Phil Orford. “The rewards benefit both business owners and their employees.”

CBI deputy director-general John Cridland, added: “After a long battle this agreement secures the individual opt-out from the 48-hour working time limit”.

”Some countries want to deny British workers the right to choose their own working hours, but that attempt has failed and we have retained this key aspect of our flexible labour market,” said Cridland.

Commenting on the Employment Council ruling Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton, said:

“Flexibility has been critical to our ability to create an extra three million jobs over the past decade. That flexibility has been preserved by ensuring workers can continue to have a choice over their working hours in future years.

“This agreement means that people remain free to earn overtime and businesses can cope during busy times,” he added.

According to the Trades Union Congress, the number of British workers exceeding the 48-hour week has risen in the past decade to 3.3 million.

Business Groups Welcome Continued 48-Hour Week Opt-Out

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