Close vote in European Parliament on Working Time - 6/2/2004

037 (EU) EP/WORKING HOURS: Alejandro Cercas' own initiative report criticises abusive use of individual opt out clauses and calls for clear Commission stance on all points of directive to be reviewed.

Brussels, 03/02/2004 (Agence Europe) - Adopting by a slim majority the own-initiative report by Spanish Socialist MEP Alejandro Cercas on the organisation of working hours (revision of Directive 93/104/EEC), the EP Committee on Employment and Social Affairs strongly criticises Member
States' abusive use of the individual opt out clause, particularly the United Kingdom.
Those supporting abolition of this provision and those who wish to keep it confronted each other on the occasion of a very tight vote. Nineteen MEPs voted for abolition of the provision as soon as possible (by 1 January 2007 at the
latest), and fifteen were in favour of keeping it (3 abstained).

This announces a very uncertain vote for the plenary in February, a press release comments, adding that MEPs also call on the Commission to undertake infringement
procedure against the United Kingdom given that, in this country, there is systematic and generalised abuse of opt out.

We recall that the European Commission recently launched with parties concerned a broad consultation on review of the directive on the question of opt out and on the reference periods used for calculating working hours as well as on
measures intended to ensure a better balance between family and professional life and on the definition of working hours following recent rulings by the Court of Justice concerning, among other things, the hours when hospital doctors are on call (See EUROPE of 6 January, p.7, for Simap and Jaėger affairs).

In his own-initiative report, Alejandro Cercas notes that many countries are gradually adopting opt out in certain sectors despite the directive (France, Germany and the Netherlands foresee using it for the health sector, and Luxembourg for hotels and catering).

In the run up to enlargement, the report invites Member States to seriously seek alternative solutions and to await a
revised version of the directive. Furthermore, while admitting the importance of flexibility with regards working hour organisation afforded by the directive to European employers, the report stresses that the health and safety of
workers, as well as reconciliation of family and professional life, must take preference over any consideration of an economic nature.

On the subject of counting hospital doctors' periods on call as working hours (as the Court suggests), the report regrets that it is currently unable to examine the economic and social effect on the health sector as there are no comparative studies and concrete data available. As a result, it calls on
the Commission to provide Member States with a clear framework with a view to structural solutions, including the possible adjustment of the directive, in order to resolve the question of defining and calculating hours on call at the
place of work.

By way of conclusion, the report notes that the Commission communication on working hours does not present a practical proposal for resolving the problems detected. MEPs therefore call for a clear Commission position on all points of
the directive that should be revised and trust that an amended proposal of directive should be made as soon as possible.

We recall that Directive 93/104/EEC should limit weekly working hours to 48 hours and that London had at the time negotiated the opt out which authorises Member States not to apply the 48 hour limit under certain conditions (namely,
prior worker agreement, the lack of negative consequences for workers who refuse the opt out and the registration of working hours for persons agreeing to the opt out). The directive ensures basic protection for most workers
except, and above all, for management (see EUROPE of 14 January, p.17).

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