Parliament OKs 48-Hour Maximum Work Week
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By JAN SLIVA
Associated Press Writer
May 11, 2005, 7:53 AM EDT
STRASBOURG, France -- The European Parliament voted Wednesday in favor of an obligatory 48-hour maximum work week, saying that an opt-out widely used by Britain should be scrapped.
The opt-out, which allows employees to work longer hours if agreed with the employer, has also been applied to specific industries like health care in other countries, including Germany and Luxembourg.
Lawmakers voted for it to be phased out over three years following the adoption of a new EU Working Time Directive, expected in 2007. Socialist, Labour and Green deputies supported scrapping the opt-out, while the European People's Party and some independent lawmakers voted against the proposal by 378 votes to 262. There were 15 abstentions.
EU employment ministers are set to discuss the issue again at a meeting in Brussels in June.
Plans to scrap the opt-out have been opposed by managers, hospitals and small business federations, who argue the 48-hour week is too stringent.
Managers, CEOs and employees elected by the board of their company would still be able to apply for the opt-out under strict conditions. However, workers in emergency services would have to stick to a 48-hour week.
"At the moment, there is a blocking majority led by the U.K., but there are things that can be done," Jean Lambert, a Green MEP (members of the European Parliament) for London, told The Associated Press. "I think the opt-out is totally unnecessary. It's a health and safety measure issue, we don't opt out of any of that."
The lawmakers also ruled "on-call" time would be counted as working time in most cases, and called for average working hours to be calculated over a full year, rather than the current period of four months, subject to strict control by trade unions.
Voting on a report updating the 1993 Working Time Directive, the parliament said both active and inactive "on-call time" in hospitals will be counted as working time, but left it up to the member states to define how the inactive hours would be paid or calculated.
Socialist deputy Alejandro Cercas, who drafted the parliament's report, said the vote was aimed at restoring public confidence in European social values.
"EU citizens are asking what the EU can do for them, and this is one of the things," he said.
In a heated debate preceding the vote, right-wing deputies said the possibility of an opt-out should be preserved, warning that a maximum cap of 48 hours would hurt small businesses in particular.