Working Time Directive opt-out could be undermined warns FPB

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is cautiously welcoming a decision to allow the UK to opt out of the EU̵7;s Working Time Directive.

The Directive restricts employees̵7; working time to an average of 48 hours per week or forces employers to provide flexible working arrangements if their staff work for longer periods. The opt-out means the cap has been set at 60 hours per week for UK employees.

However, EU employment ministers, who met in Luxembourg on Monday, also agreed to hand benefits enjoyed by full-time employees to temporary staff. The FPB believes that this could undermine the flexibility of the labour market that ministers are trying to preserve. In the FPB̵7;s latest quarterly newsletter and ballot of members, Referendum, 80 per cent of those surveyed believed that it would seriously impact on the sustainability of smaller firms.

̶0;It is important that, for small businesses in particular, key members of staff are given the freedom and flexibility to put in the hours that are necessary for success. The rewards benefit both business-owners and their employees,̶1; said the FPB̵7;s Chief Executive, Phil Orford. ̶0;The FPB therefore welcomes the move to allow the UK to increase the weekly cap to 60 hours.̶1;

He added: ̶0;However, we have concerns about the EU̵7;s Directive on Working Conditions of Temporary (Agency) Workers. It will be a serious disincentive to employing temporary workers.̶1;

The European Parliament will vote on the Directive, which has been on the European agenda since 2002, before the end of 2008. Originally, the proposals were to hand equal benefits ̵1; such as holiday and sick pay ̵1; to temporary staff after just 6 weeks with a company, but this has been extended to 12 weeks.

Workers in the UK will not be able to sign waivers exempting them from the Working Time Directive during their first month of employment, and cannot be penalised by their employers if they subsequently decline to do so.

̶0;We are hoping that greater flexibility on the working time opt-out will help employers who face a very challenging market,̶1; said the FPB̵7;s Employment Adviser, Martin Edwards, of solicitors firm Mace & Jones. ̶0;However, the changes regarding agency workers will increase legal bureaucracy at a time when employers need to be able to respond flexibly to rapid changes in demands for their products and service.̶1;

Image: UK businesses have voiced concerns over the EU̵7;s Working Time Directive, which proposes restrictions on employees' hours of work

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