Working Time Directive Opt-out, The Story So Far

As we all know, the UK is the only country in the EEC to have an opt-out for workers who want to work more than 48-hours a week.
While UK workers cannot be forced to work more than an average of 48-hours per week (normally calculated over 17-weeks), they can voluntarily enter into an opt-out agreement. This must be in writing and signed by the employee.

The �opt-out� is due to finish in December 2003. The EEC will now,

  • Undertake a study (due out October 2003-ish) on how the opt-out is being used in the UK. They will look at
    – overall usage by UK employers/employees
    – any abuse of the opt-out
    – relationship between the opt-out and workplace accidents
  • Consult with the European Parliament and Council seeking their opinions and produce a report of recommendations
    (due out November 2003). The report is likely to
    – suggest no amendments to the existing opt-out
    – include legislative proposal amending the opt-out.

The TUC are leaning on the Government to end the opt-out and the Government currently say they would like to keep it (but they may not get a choice!). The Government also want to be seen as �good Europeans� and simultaneously cabinet ministers criticise the UK�s �long working hours� culture.

Separately, the trade union Amicus have brought an action in the European Court claiming the UK has incorrectly implemented unmeasured and partly unmeasured working time in the Working Time Directive. If successful this will affect white collar workers.

Many people think it is only a matter of time before the UK looses it�s opt-out. Either way, employers (both public and private) need to make sure that they can prove the hours worked by employees. In practice this means accurately recording start and finish times and the easiest way to do this – is with a Smart Card.

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