Working time opt-out makes UK more flexible workplace

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Working time opt-out makes UK more flexible workplaceOn 12 Nov 2002 in Personnel Today EU plans to harmonise the working rules across all member states is bad newsfor the UK and companies must act to fight the changesThe Working Time Regulations, based on a 1993 EU directive, have alwaysgiven the UK a pseudo get-out clause. This stated that individual employees can agree with their employers thatthey will not be covered by the general restriction of a 48-hour maximumworking week. Uniquely among EU member states, the UK uses this individualopt-out provision in its national legislation. In accordance with provisions in the EU directive itself, the EU Commissionhas now decided to carry out a review of whether or not it is necessary toretain the individual opt-out in the directive. Being carried out by a group ofCambridge University academics – led by Professor Catherine Barnard – the teamhas been asked to produce a report by the end of this year, based on the use ofthe opt-out in the UK. There is a clear risk that the individual opt-out could now be lost – if therest of the EU doesn’t need it then why should the UK? The reality in the UK is that the individual opt-out brings significantbenefits to the UK’s flexible labour market, which would be lost if the opt-outwere to be removed. It is one of the few clear and certain provisions in theWorking Time Regulations that can be used to make the regulations moreappropriate for the UK. The individual opt-out is also a provision that both employer and employeescan understand and does not involve a bureaucratic structure for itsimplementation, or doubts about its applicability. In manufacturing, the individual opt-out is used by different people andcompanies for different reasons. All of them tend to reflect a wish to complywith the law, rather than the cavalier attitude of avoidance that may exist inother EU member states. For example, the opt-out is often used by serviceengineers who have to travel from place to place to repair or maintainequipment their employer has provided. It is also used by senior managers and employers to avoid the uncertaintyover a derogation (EU speak for an exception). It states that the working timerule does not apply to “managing executives or other persons withautonomous decision-taking powers”. It also avoids the burden of such managers keeping detailed records of allworking time spent at home and travelling. Should the opt-out be removed, it will almost certainly lead to extra costsfor companies and pressure on agreements for longer averaging of working hours.There would also be a need to examine existing working practices that mayinvolve inconvenient changes for both employers and employees. Currently, the UK Government has not expressed an opinion as to whether ornot it would oppose any EU proposal to remove the individual opt-out. However, given her views on the UK’s long hours culture, it may,unfortunately, be all to easy for the current Secretary of State for Trade andIndustry Patricia Hewitt to agree to its removal. At this stage, companies making use of the individual opt-out must continueto press the UK Government and the EU Commission on why it is still needed.However, being pragmatic, such companies also need to consider how they wouldhave to change their employment practices to accommodate its ending should we loseour unique position. Should we seek to gain agreement that the averaging period for the maximum48-hour working week should be 52 weeks rather than 13, for example? If the EU directive is to be changed, then the opportunity should be takento make the whole EU Working Time Directive simpler. While the commission will not make its views known until later next year, ifwe are to have influence, we need to make our views known now. By Peter Martin, Director of employment policy at the EngineeringEmployers Federationlast_img read more

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