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November 5, 2008

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MEPs vote to scrap Working Time Directive opt-out

The European Parliament’s employment committee has today supported a motion to end the Working Time Directive’s opt-out.

The decision was reached by 35 votes to 13 in favour of abolishing the opt-out from the 48-hour week set by the Directive.

The unions welcomed the ruling. TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: “Our long-hours culture, which has been shored up by the opt-out, has risked the health of many workers. Regularly working more than 48 hours increases the chance of suffering from heart disease and stress-related illness, as well as diabetes and other ailments.”

GMB general secretary, Paul Kenny, commented: “Dignity and decency has won over ignorance and greed.”

The CBI had been campaigning vigorously to retain the clause, arguing that the current economic climate demanded flexibility. Speaking prior to the vote, John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “Some people want to work longer hours, some people don’t. The opt-out gives them a choice.

“In hard times, somebody may want to work extra hours to help support their family. Staff in a company that’s fighting for survival may choose to work longer hours.”

The European Parliament will decide now whether to rubber-stamp the decision, and the Conservatives promised to rally support to retain the opt-out ahead of the full Parliament vote next month. As the Parliament is aiming to overturn the position of national governments, it would need the support of more than 60 per cent of MEPs.

Conservative leader in the European Parliament, Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP, said: “British workers and businesses both want the opt-out to remain, yet Labour MEPs continue to undermine it. The British government must not let workers down at a time when they want to work a few extra hours to make ends meet.

“During a recession we should be encouraging hard work, not outlawing it; and enabling personal choice, rather than restricting it.”

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