The UK’s ability to opt out of the 48 hour working week is now in peril following the European Parliament vote this week to have it scrapped. The UK’s opt out of this element of the Working Time Directive (in other words employees in the UK being able to agree to opt out of the limit) was agreed in the 1990s but has been under threat now for a number of years. The vote will come as a great disappointment to UK businesses bearing in mind that earlier this year the UK agreed to the Temporary Agency Directive provided it could keep the Working Time Directive opt out. Keeping the opt out was, however, dependent on being accompanied by a number of conditions which guarantee the protection of health and safety of workers. The European Parliament was not convinced that keeping the opt out does not undermine health and safety.

Other proposed amendments to the Working Time Directive are as follows:

·        Workers will have a right request changes to working hours or patterns; an employer may refuse such a request only if the organisational disadvantages for the employer are disproportionately greater than the benefit to the worker.

·        Employers should inform workers well in advance of changes to working time patterns

·        Working time to include all time worked where a worker is employed under more than one contract of employment

·        All on-call time will be working time, except that national law or collective agreements may exclude inactive parts of on-call time from the calculation of maximum weekly working time

·        The inactive part of on-call time will not be taken into account for the purposes of calculating daily or weekly rest periods.

Will these proposed changes out become law?

The European Parliament does not have the final say in the EU legislative process and the proposed changes are now subject to approval by the Council of Ministers. If the Council does not approve the amendments, a conciliation procedure will begin with a view to achieving a joint text. If the amendments are approved, the UK will have 36 months to amend its laws, during which period it would still be able to use the opt-out.