EU ministers clash over law limiting working hours

7th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

7 November 2006, Brussels (dpa) - European Union employment ministers on Tuesday clashed over an EU working hours law, signalling little chance of a much-needed agreement on the disputed piece of legislation. The day-long talks aimed at settling a two-year row on the divisive EU working time directive showed member states at loggerheads over when Britain should end its opt-out from the EU's 48-hour maximum working week. France, Spain and Italy called for phasing out exemptions to the EU rule during the nex

7 November 2006

Brussels (dpa) - European Union employment ministers on Tuesday clashed over an EU working hours law, signalling little chance of a much-needed agreement on the disputed piece of legislation.

The day-long talks aimed at settling a two-year row on the divisive EU working time directive showed member states at loggerheads over when Britain should end its opt-out from the EU's 48-hour maximum working week.

France, Spain and Italy called for phasing out exemptions to the EU rule during the next 10 years. Greece and Luxembourg backed the demands.

But Britain wants companies and workers to come to voluntary agreements, while Germany and Poland also want countries to have flexibility in applying the limit on work hours.

Under the EU's current rules, employees may not work more than an average of 48 hours per week calculated over a so-called 'reference period' of 12 months.

Britain makes use of a loophole in the rules which allows an extension of the 48-hour limit if the employee agrees to work longer.

The France-led group of opponents, however, have said that they want to scrap the British opt-out. They argue that the exemption from the EU law is bad for workers' health and gives Britain a competitive advantage.

Finnish employment minister Tarja Filatov, chair of the ministers' meeting, urged national governments to show flexibility.

Finland, which currently runs the rotating EU presidency, has proposed a compromise deal under which Britain could keep its opt-out indefinitely.

Under the Finnish proposal, a workers' 48-hour working week could be averaged out over a reference period of up to 12 months, the precise period being set by national governments.

This would enable most employers operating in markets where there are seasonal peaks to avoid violations.

The maximum working week of 60 hours, for those making use of the opt-out, would be averaged over three months. In addition, workers would have to agree to opt out, and would be able to withdraw their agreement within the first three months.

The Finns also want to set much stricter conditions for Britain's opt-out clause and gradually end it at a later date.

The Finnish proposals for a settlement of one of the EU's most divisive issues has been prompted by a 2004 ruling by the bloc's highest court that time spent by doctors and nurses 'on call', but not actually working, should count towards the 48-hour limit.

As many as 23 EU countries are currently in breach of this judgment from the European Court of Justice.

EU employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla on Tuesday warned national governments that if no deal was reached he could step up legal action against violators of the existing rule.

The EU's working time directive was adopted in 1993 as part of the bloc's bid to upgrade the health and safety of employees.

However, it allows countries not to apply the maximum working week of 48 hours under certain conditions. The opt-out is not specific to Britain but it is the only country to make widespread use of its provisions.

London has long fought moves to end the opt-out, arguing that labour market flexibility boosts economic growth and cuts unemployment.

DPA

Subject: German news

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