The opt-out clause of the Working Hours Directive 1998.

The opt-out clause of the Working Hours Directive 1998.

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The opt-out clause of the Working Hours Directive 1998.

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

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

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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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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?


· Marchington and Wilkinson, “People Management and Development”,
Charted Institute of Personnel and Development.

· Torrington and Hall, “Human Resource Management”

· Mullins, “Management and Organisational Behaviour”

· Beardwell and Holden, “Human Resource Management, a Contempory



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