Tomorrow a crucial vote will take place in the European Parliament on the EU Working Time Directive. Up to now the UK has opted out of the legislation which is designed to protect workers' health and safety by limiting their average working week to 48 hours over a 12 month period. If the Parliament votes to end the opt-out it is recommended to be phased out within three years. However the next steps will be to negotiate the way forward with the Council.
Jean Lambert, the Green Party MEP for London and Member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, who has been heavily involved in negotiations on the Directive, said:
"We have an opportunity this week to give UK workers the right to enjoy a better work-life balance. There are many health issues related to the long-hours culture including stress, anxiety and depression, as well as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and insomnia. This Directive is first and foremost about protecting health and safety.
"The majority of long hours employees are not paid for their overtime and therefore have little to fear in terms of their earnings if we end the opt-out. Unsurprisingly, seven out of ten people who work unpaid overtimewant to reduce their hours. Over half of those doing paid overtime also want to cut their working time.
"The UK Government has been pressurising MEPs to vote to keep the opt-out, thereby leaving UK workers open to exploitation. Why should UK workers be expected to work longer hours and have fewer rights than those on the continent?"
Regarding concerns that the Directive will be bad for business, Jean Lambert MEP said:
"There is a large degree of flexibility built into the Directive for businesses so that employees can work longer in peak times, as long as they do not work more than an average of 48 hours per week over a 12 month period." MEPs will be voting on proposals to end the UK opt-out from the Directive on Wednesday 17th December. Jean Lambert's report Must I Work Harder?, which outlines her reasons behind calling for an end to the UK opt-out, can befound at http://www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk/DocumentStore/I_Must_Work_Harder.pdf