Agreement on working time sets the EU clock back over a century

17 June 2008

Agreement on working time sets the EU clock back over a century

The European Ministers of Social Affairs have left working people out in the cold in supporting the employers' arguments for more flexible and longer working hours. The agreement on the Working Time Directive will set the EU back to the beginning of the last century, SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer believes.

EU member states will in the future be permitted to exceeding effect the average working week of 48 hours. The period for the calculation of the average will be lengthened from four months to twelve, which will mean that the peak working time will become much longer. Under the current rules, workers' organisations must give their permission for any exceeding of the limits, but under this agreement they will see themselves dismissed from the field of play. The European ministers have thrown overboard a European Court of Justice ruling of great importance to the Netherlands, a number of other member states, and certain trades and professions. Henceforth, 'on-call' periods will no longer be counted as working time. This means that, for example, firefighters and nurses will no longer be paid for such periods, despite being in a situation where they can be called into work at any moment.

Red Card
So far only the broad lines of the accord have been agreed. The precise text is yet to be determined. Erik Meijer intends to lend his support to resistance in the European Parliament. “This agreement is in our view worthy of a red card. For a start the already minimal standards for working time have been driven even further down. This accord is seen by trade unions as an attack. Longer and more irregular working hours will become the norm in Europe.”

Allies sought
The agreement on the Working Time Directive is seen elsewhere as a political breakthrough. Changes of government in Italy, with the return to power of Berlusconi, and France after the election of Sarkozy mean that the blocking minority in the EU Council of Ministers has lost ground. The European trade union movement is going, despite this, to look for allies in the European Parliament in an attempt to have the agreement thrown out.

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