Commission makes new proposals on Working Time - 2/6/2005

Commission proposes

1. Inactive working time NOT working time
2. Phase out of opt out by 2005

Full report from The Times
link to article

Working Time Directive opt-out clause
Commission proposes deadline and extension
Ivan Camilleri in Brussels

The European Commission yesterday proposed changes to the Working Time Directive including the removal of the opt-out clause by 2012, with EU member states being able to ask for an extension beyond that date.

The dropping of the opt-out clause will mean that no employee can accept to work more than 48 hours a week after the deadline.

Originally, the Commission's proposal included the right for member states to continue exercising the opt-out clause and this was supported by a number of countries, including Malta and Britain.

However, after the European Parliament voted against the retention of the opt-out clause, the Commission has now watered down its original proposals.

During a technical briefing yesterday, Commission spokesman Katharina von Schnurbein explained that in its revised proposals, the Commission wanted to strike the right balance and at the same time offer the maximum amount of flexibility possible to the member states' labour markets.

The new proposal states: "In principle, the opt-out will be available only for a period not exceeding three years following the date of implementation of the directive by member states". The Commission specified that this is usually three years after the adoption of the directive, probably 2012.

However, for those member states, like Malta, which are against the abolition of the opt-out provision, the Commission is still keeping the door open. The new proposal in fact adds that "member states making use of the opt-out may, for reasons relating to their labour market arrangements, ask for the option to be extended beyond the period of three years".

Asked who will decide on the specific request of member states, Ms von Schnurbein said it will be the Commission that decides. However, "this will not be the rule and the member state involved will have to give valid reasons".

The spokesman added that "in principle, the opt-out should be abolished three years after the date of the transposition, by 2012. The Commission is convinced that, with the new flexibilities provided for by the proposal, the opt-out will not be necessary any more".

The Commission is also suggesting that for workers choosing to work more than 48 hours a week, and thus utilising the opt-out clause until 2012, the maximum allowable working time, including overtime, should not exceed 55 hours a week, 10 hours less than that allowed in its original proposal.

The Commission further proposed changes to the reference period from four to 12 months in the calculation of a 48-hour week and, in case of annualisation of the working time by law, member states must take the necessary measures to ensure that the employer informs and consults the workers or their representatives in good time concerning the introduction of such a reference period.

In addition, the employer would have to take the necessary measures to avoid or overcome any risk relating to health and safety that could arise from the introduction of such a reference period.

On on-call time, used generally in Malta for workers in the health sector, the Commission said the new provisions allows the calculation of the inactive part of on-call time on the basis of an average number of hours or a proportion of on-call time.

It lays down that the inactive part of on-call time cannot be taken into account in calculating the daily rest period. In Malta the on-call time is already calculated as part of one's work.

The new proposals will now be discussed in the EU Employment Council. When a common position is reached, by qualified majority, the proposal goes back to the European Parliament for the second reading.

At present there is no favourable majority at Council level. Malta forms part of the blocking majority.

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