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The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) was adopted in 1993, and came into force in the UK under the Working Time Regulations 1998 as a safety measure, because of the recognised negative effects on health and safety of excessively long working hours. It also provides for statutory minimum rest-break entitlements, annual leave and working arrangements for night workers.
The EWTD is also designed to help work life balance by limiting long hours, which is both stressful and harmful to health. For example, some research has shown that driving while tired provided similar results to driving after having drunk alcohol.
The EWTD regulations place a legal requirement on employers, which means that if it is not implemented, national governments will be liable for payment of heavy financial penalties and potentially sanctions from the European Union (EU).
There are no rights to work long hours, but there is legal protection to protect workers’ rights to reasonable working environment and conditions, and to family life.
The main features of the EWTD are; no more than 48 hours work per week; 11 hours continuous rest in 24 hours; 24 hours continuous rest in seven days (or 48 hours in 14 days); a 20 minute break in work periods of over 6 hours; four weeks annual leave; and for night workers, an average of no more than 8 hours work in 24 hours over the reference period.
The EWTD was considered by the UK Government as an issue of working conditions, not as a health and safety issue. As a result, in 1993, the UK negotiated an opt-out clause, which allows Member States not to apply the limit to working hours under certain conditions, such as: prior agreement of the individual, no negative fall out from refusing to opt-out, and records kept of working hours of those that have opted out.
The European Commission announced on 23rd September 2004 its controversial proposal to update the 1993 Working Time Directive. This will most likely mean the UK will have to abandon its opt-out clause. If this is the case, and working hours are restricted, there will be many advantages and disadvantages for both employees and employers. The advantages and disadvantages range from health and safety issues to financial issues.
The advantages for employees are; firstly, no longer shall employees be pressured into signing a contract with an opt-out clause stating if required, they must work extra time. This will also stop a lot of employers blackmailing potential and/or current employees, which can be often the case. For example, an employer may say to a potential employee, that if they do not sign the opt-out clause contract then they cannot have the job.
Health and safety issues will improve for employees, because when they are forced to work longer than what they want/can, then they will inevitably feel ill. For example it is very common for workers to have headaches, muscular problems, stomachaches, stress, sleeping problems and irritability from just simply working too much.
Not only improving your health, being limited to a maximum of 48 hour week, will vastly improve a workers’ family life who had previously been working 60 hours a week. Having a four-week holiday will also be beneficial, as apposed to a lesser holiday the employee most likely used to have. Also, as a result of being more healthy and less stressed, this should improve the workers’ actual efficiency/quality of work, because the worker will not feel as tired or overloaded with work.
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Employees who are over worked, often find it very hard to manage their financial issues, due to lack of time. So by limiting employees to a maximum of 48 hours work a week, will help prevent them overlooking their financial matters.
One main advantage for women in particular, is the clear link between the lack of women in managerial positions and long working hours. The culture of long working hours in higher professional and managerial jobs is an obstacle to the upward mobility of women, and sustains gender segregation in the work place. Therefore by limiting the working hours of a week will vastly improve the chances for women to improve their status. Flexible working time patterns and part time work have an important impact in this area as well.
The disadvantages for employees are mainly financial, because they will no longer be able to earn as much over-time pay as what that may like. This will be especially frustrating for employees who are willing to do extra work in order to save money for their future/family etc. As a result, this could have an advert affect on their moral, because they may find themselves with nothing to do, when they could be quite easily doing more work in order to earn more money.
The advantages for employers are; that their employees will be more efficient and motivated; therefore the employees should be more productive than before, thus helping deadlines to be achieved etc.
Having a more relaxed workforce will also lead to a better work relationship between the employer and his subordinates (as well as between the employees and themselves), which will therefore improve the communication within the workplace.
Given that the employees will be more relaxed and healthy, as a result they will be less absent from work due to illness. So therefore, again the employers’ objectives will be more likely to be completed, and the productivity of the employees should increase.
The disadvantages for employers are that in the past, they would be able to say to their employees that they wanted a certain objective completed by a certain time, for example ‘by the end of the day’. This will no longer be an option for employers, as employees will not be able to work longer than 48 hours (or whatever their contract states) a week.
Employers may find they will have to hire extra staff in order to get more work done, or pay for employees to do overtime (those that can!) This could end up costing a substantial amount of money; more than what the employer spent in the past on his workforce. As a result budgets will need to be rethought in the future, and also possibly cutbacks will be made if money is an issue. Employers will not like this fact, especially as in the past, they were often getting their employees to put in extra hours of work for free!
The situation in the UK, is that the main characteristics of the system governing working time have not really changed since the Directive was introduced. This is largely due to the opt-out clause.
Latest figures show that about 16% of the workforce currently works more that 48 hours per week, compared with a figure of 15% at the beginning of the 1990s. About 8% of the workforce say they work over 55 hours per week, 3.2% over 60 hours per week and 1% over 70 hours per week. The UK is the only Member States where weekly working time has increased over the last decade.
Approximately 46% of people that say they work over 48 hours a week, are in managerial positions and are covered by the exemption relating to managers.
Looking at other countries, ranked by collectively agreed working hours, Germany idles in the bottom third in the EU. In 2003 the contractual annual working time in West Germany was 1,643 hours (East Germany 1,722). The EU-15 average was 1,708.
In Germany working time is a problem, particularly for manufacturing. In some sectors, such as metal and engineering or printing, the 35-hour week is standard for a large proportion of the workforce, even for employees salaried above the collectively agreed pay scale. Overall, the collectively agreed working week in West Germany averages 37.5 hours. However, the actual time worked is approximately 6% longer than the collectively agreed hours, and is close to the EU-15 average. This is due to overtime and the fact that an increasing proportion of the workforce, especially in small and medium sized businesses, already work longer than collectively agreed.
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In the SIMAP and Jaeger cases, the rulings of the European Court of Justice had major financial and organisational implications for the health sector in the EU and following the rulings, France and Germany applied the opt-out to their health sectors. Measures were also put in place to allow opting-out in the hotel and catering industry. However until recently, the UK was the only Member State to have a generalised opt-out clause (Cyprus and Malta took up the option last May), and it is clearly in the firing line of the European Commission who claims that there is evidence that the opt-out is being misapplied, in particular that workers are being pressured into opting-out.
The debate has been furious in the UK, fuelled by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), who claims that it should be every worker’s choice to decide on how long he/she works, and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) who argue that it spreads an unjustified long hours culture.
Regardless of the fact, people are working much more than recommended, (which you would assume was in order to save more money), according to the latest research people are squandering away their earnings on treats to reward themselves for their hard work. A quarter of people say they regularly work more than their contracted hours, however almost half admit they often waste money on treats they do not need, with 30 percent of workers wasting away at least £100 a month. As a direct result, people are usually too busy to try to keep track of their finances, and get a shock when their statements arrive.
People are spending so much of their time working, it seems a shame they are not planning for their future and making the most of their money.
I think Britain should be compelled by the EU to abandon its opt-out clause under the EWTD, and thus restrict its workings hours, because people are working for far too long nowadays and as a result not only does their health suffer, but their work suffers as well.
At the moment, with the current opt-out clause in Britain, almost one in four men in England and Wales are working more than 48 hours a week! The longest hours are worked in the City of London, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster, according to Britain’s General Union, who say nearly a quarter of men are exceeding the 48-hour limit set by the EU.
Therefore, as a result, the UK businessmen are hindering British productivity by working the kind of hours that burn out their enthusiasm, creativity, innovation and forward planning. You simply cannot be at your best if you are continually working more than 48 hours a week. Not only are they hindering the British productivity, but also by persisting in allowing people to work longer than they are capable of they are holding back on the UK’s competitiveness with Europe.
The Government is burning out Britain by practically encouraging longer working hours. They argue that more than a million people would lose out on paid overtime if they had to stop working extra hours. Or is the Government just worried about the amount of revenue they will loose out on?
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