link to The Times article
Malta at odds with MEPs over working time directive
Malta and other European Union member states, including the UK and Germany, are on a collision course with the European Parliament over the much debated working-time directive, which is intended to give more rights to workers particularly by choosing whether to work extra hours.
Yesterday, the Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee decided to scrap proposed "opt-outs" from the EU's Working Time Directive. All MEPs are set to vote on a review of the rules in mid-May, possibly putting the Parliament at odds with various governments.
Malta, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and other European member states have backed voluntary worker "opt-out" of rules setting the maximum length of the working week.
However, yesterday, MEPs on the employment committee called for opt-outs to be scrapped by 2010 as part of the EU's adoption of a re-think of worker rights limiting the working week to 48 hours. The Parliament is also pushing for tighter definitions of "on call" time to prevent staff, such as medics, falling outside the EU rules.
Parliament sources told The Times that the MEPs' decision means that Malta's wish to keep the opt-out clause is not possible.
To enter into effect, the directive will have to be agreed between the EU Council (member states) and Parliament. Currently, at Council level, there is still no agreement between member states and a qualified majority is needed for the directive to be approved. During the last Employment Council held, no majority was reached. Malta together with other member states voted against.
The Maltese government mantains that some parts of the proposed directive may have negative effects on the Maltese economy and introduce quite a number of complications to the Maltese employment market. Thus, a number of amandents are needed before Malta can give its approval.
The main issue is whether to apply the possibility for workers to choose if they want to work more than 48 hours a week on overtime basis, known as the opt-out clause.
Malta is insisting that it is crucial that any amendment to the directive should respect and retain the individual's right to choose to opt out of the requirement relating to the maximum average weekly working time of 48 hours. Malta also considers supporting the inclusion of opt-out clauses in collective agreements.
The working time directive provides a basic level of protection for most workers, with the notable exception of managers. It means an employee has the right to a daily 11-hour rest period, regular breaks, a weekly working time of no more than 48 hours, a minimum annual holiday of four weeks, and, in general, that night time working should be limited to eight hours out of 24.
The original directive, adopted in 1993, was amended in 2000 by Directive 2000/34/EC. The two have been consolidated into Directive 2003/88/EC which is now up for review.
In Malta, the position being taken by the government enjoys broad consensus which includes the social partners.