Working time clause EU Presidency submits fresh proposal - 23/3/2006

Working time clause
EU Presidency submits fresh proposal
Ivan Camilleri in Brussels

A fresh proposal by the Austrian EU Presidency on the working time directive has resulted in a stalemate after opposition from a number of countries, including Malta.

Sources close to the Council told The Times that during a bilateral meeting between Maltese and EU officials in Brussels a few weeks ago, Malta reiterated its position that workers who wished to work more than 48 hours a week could opt out of the directive's requirements.

Malta's position is shared by the UK and other key member states forming a blocking majority.

The revision of this EU health and safety law was initiated following a ruling by the European Court of Justice which held that "working time" included being available for duty. The directive also prevents working weeks of more than 48 hours.

The European Parliament last year voted for removing the opt-out clause. Despite this position and new proposals submitted by the Commission, Malta and the other opposing member states have stuck to their guns.

The Austrian Presidency had said it intended to reach a political agreement over the subject by June. Council sources, however, said that following the round of bilateral meetings with all member states over the issue, progress over the proposed directive is unlikely.

Studies conducted by the government show that the worst hit sectors if a limit on overtime was imposed were health, tourism and police services.

It is estimated that the bill for providing health care if the opt-out clause is not retained will go up by Lm2 million a year. The number of senior registrars in hospital will have to be doubled and an increase of 30 per cent of junior doctors will be needed. The police force will also require more officers and the tourism sector, which is a seasonal industry, would have to incur extra costs.

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