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Tuesday, 11 November 2008


The article below appeared in the "Guardian" Comment is Free section on Saturday. The Working Time Directive has proved very controversial. Despite what you may have read, agreement has not yet been reached.

Mary Honeyball, Saturday November 8 2008 18.00 GMT

Labour MEPs voted this week to end Britain's opt-out from the working time directive – which limits the working week to 48 hours – in 2011. Ignore the sceptics: the directive would be a good piece of legislation. It seeks to improve the work-life balance that it recognises is necessary to increase women's employment. It looks at creating a more satisfactory working environment to respond better to workers' demands, particularly from those with family responsibilities. In addition, it tries to protect the health and safety of workers.
Although the European Parliament's employment and social affairs committee voted to abolish the opt-out, the decision is not yet law: the matter still needs to go before the full European parliament, scheduled for the week beginning December 15.
The European Council (the employment ministers of the member states, in this instance) took a different view: they wanted to preseve the right to opt out. Differences of view between the Parliament and the council are not that uncommon in EU land. But both must agree if the legislation is to go through. There will no doubt be lengthy and difficult negotiations right up to the crucial European parliament vote. The whole package is genuinely up for grabs, and your guess on the final outcome is as good as mine.
So it is really too soon to lambast Labour MEPs for voting against the wishes of the British government. Yes, the Labour MEPs on the employment committee did vote to end the opt-out after three years. But the full European parliamentary Labour party has yet to vote in the plenary session of the European parliament in December. I can honestly say that we have not yet decided what to do, and we are unlikely to be able to take an informed view until the negotiations between parliament and council are concluded.
I agree that the EU has a long drawn out and not very user-friendly way of creating laws. Interestingly, the UK opposition parties have not complained about the bureaucracy this time, as is their wont on many matters before the EU. Both Philip Bushill-Matthews for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson Liz Lynne have instead chosen to focus on the alleged disagreement between Labour MEPs and the PM.
Many of the objections raised at the start of the directive's journey through the EU labyrinth have already been ironed out. Were it to go through, it would be exactly the kind of law thart does credit to the EU. What is more, treating workers the same across the EU is very welcome for the single market, one of the few EU agreements accepted by all the major political parties in Britain.

1 comment:

Miller 2.0 said...

"Labour MEPs voted this week to end Britain's opt-out from the working time directive"

Well done; thoroughly commend this.

Isn't it time the govt. got more pro-european on the social side of things?