The contractor-led campaign to maintain the UK’s opt-out from the Working Time Directive has gained wide-ranging support, as European negotiations reach a critical stage this week.
MEPs voted in December to scrap the UK’s opt-out from the EU directive that limits employees to a 48-hour average working week.
The Council of Ministers disagreed with this position, however, and official conciliation talks between representatives of both bodies were due to start on Tuesday (17 March).
These negotiations are expected to be finished within six weeks, meaning a final and binding decision could be made as soon as next month.
The British Constructional Steelwork Association launched a campaign in January to put pressure on the UK Government to fight in Europe to retain the optout.
The association fears that having to adhere to the weekly hours cap would push up project times, reduce workers’ take-home pay and hamper competitiveness.
Of 1,036 employees polled by the BCSA across 30 UK companies last week, 90 per cent had signed its petition calling for the UK Government to fight to retain the opt-out.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Mark Francois said last week in Parliament that the alleged damage to the construction industry of ending the opt-out was “not a cost that the British economy could afford”.
Open Europe research director Mats Persson said there was a “good chance” the UK would retain
its opt-out. “If there is no agreement, then the opt-out will remain. The European Parliament negotiating position is not too strong but it is a very unpredictable process.”
Reidsteel contracts director Simon Boyd – who is spearheading the BCSA campaign – said: “Many companies may not be able to survive with such a punitive restriction on their flexibility.”
Employment relations minister Pat McFadden said the Government supported the opt-out and would continue to defend it.
The UK’s working time regulations give workers the following rights, among others:
- Not to be required to work more than an average of 48 hours a week (they can currently opt out of)
- Eleven hours rest a day
- A day off each week
- An in-work rest break if the working day is longer than six hours
- Four weeks’ paid leave per year.