Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to the newest version of your browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of Construction News, please enable cookies in your browser.

Welcome to the Construction News site. As we have relaunched, you will have to sign in once now and agree for us to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Scrapping the opt-out will hit our output

AGENDA - A maximum 48-hour week will cost the UK money and jobs, writes Alan Cooper

MANY readers will be aware of the European Parliament's recent decision to scrap the opt-out from the maximum 48-hour working week.

While their vote has yet to be agreed politically by the Council of Ministers, it is likely that the flexibility currently enjoyed by the UK construction industry will be eroded.

Since the publicity surrounding the decision I have been inundated with questions from our employees asking how this will affect their working week and, more importantly, wage packets.

Operatives will no doubt want to retain their income level even with a reduction in working hours.

Employers will be pressured and, in most cases, have no choice but to increase hourly rates of pay to retain good workers. This extra cost will be passed on to the clients.

Output will also suffer. While several industry bodies have lobbied Europe and the UK Government by highlighting the economic impact for both the construction industry and the wider economy, the removal of the opt-out could well cost the UK's GDP £20 billion per annum by reducing output and productivity in the construction sector alone.

This decision will cost money and ultimately jobs at a t ime when we need to be more competitive I am not just concerned about the economic impact. The removal of the opt-out will add a further administrative burden on contractors and subcontractors alike. It will also lead to an increased risk of accidents, bad practice and poor performance.

We have a team of men working on a contract for a large supermarket chain. The team has already worked its averaged 48-hour week but the client has a deadline that has to be met.

OK fine, so we bring in more men from another site. But they have also met their obligatory 48 hours.

Where do we get the men to cover the job that has to be finished?

It would likely involve taking on board extra costs of employing agency workers, which then opens a whole other can of worms regarding health and safety, poor performance and bad practice by inexperienced or unknown workers at a critical time.

Indeed, our statistics show that the majority of accidents on site happen with a new team in an unfamiliar workplace.

Construction, and in particular civil engineering, is a world of long hours and hard work.

Many in the industry would expect to work up to a 60-hour week, and more often than not, want to work that for the extra money it brings.

Like many UK employer organisations, Hewlett has campaigned hard against the opt-out removal, but to no avail. While the limitation of working time has long been a trade union demand, is it really taking into account the wishes of all workers? I do not believe so.

Neither do I believe the claims that the opt-out has been abused and workers have been pressured into working longer. It has certainly not happened at Hewlett.

Fundamentally I believe there should be a less drastic way of protecting workers as well as allowing them the freedom to choose the length of their working week.