European Commission and the Working Time directive - 7/1/2004

Taken from

Commission Starts Consultations On Working Time Directive Revision
- team

Monday, January 05, 2004

The European Commission has started a consultation process on the revision of the Working Time directive (93/104/EC) which lays down provisions for a maximum 48 hour working week including overtime.

The report focuses on the issue of the so-called ‘opt-out’, which allows individuals to waive their rights under the directive, and the definition and calculation of working time.

This consultation will take place following a report on the workings of current EU legislation in this area. The report focuses on the issue of the so-called ‘opt-out’, which allows individuals to waive their rights under the directive, and the definition and calculation of working time.

As a result of recent European Court of Justice rulings, more member states are turning to use of the opt-out. The Commission is consulting on how the directive could be revised in the future since it wants to minimise its use.

Malta is one of the accession states which want to use the opt-out clause. The Working Time directive was one of the major controversies during the EU referendum campaign in Malta.

"We appreciate the importance of freedom of choice of individuals as to how they work" said Anna Diamantopoulou, commissioner for employment and social affairs. "But in practice the measures that the directive foresees to safeguard the workers' interests when opting out are not properly implemented. We need to find a solution that balances the interests of all concerned. We also need to consider how best to define working time, to avoid what is currently a flexible legislative framework becoming one that creates unnecessary burdens."

In 1993, the United Kingdom negotiated an opt-out, which allows member states not to apply the limit to working hours under certain conditions, including 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.

France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Luxembourg are preparing or have passed legislation to make restricted use of the opt-out, in certain sectors.

Luxembourg uses the opt-out for its hotel and catering sector, while out of the accession states, Malta and Cyprus has already put the opt-out into their national measures. Slovenia applies it to doctors. Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania have indicated that they could make use of this provision to avoid the problems arising from the European Court of Justice rulings.

The commission's report finds that not all the guarantees laid down within the directive are being provided. It is concerned, for example, that workers are frequently asked to sign the opt-out agreement at the same time as signing their employment contract, which acts a constraint to freedom of choice.

The consultation asks for responses on 5 main issues, with a view to a future revision of the directive:

- The length of reference periods currently four months, with certain provisions allowing for 6 months or a year.

- The definition of working time following recent European Court of Justice rulings on time spent on call.

- The conditions for the application of the opt-out.

- Measures to improve the balance between work and family life.

- How to find the best balance of these measures.

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