The ETUC calls for a Directive that will put an end to long working hours in Europe
On 31 March, the first phase of the European Commission’s consultation on the revision of the 1993 Working Time Directive comes to an end. “We call the Commission to come up with proposals that challenge outmoded forms of work organisation. We look forward to proposals that stimulate modern and sustainable solutions for business and workers”, declared John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.
The ETUC envisages a modern working time policy on the national and the European level that combines flexibility for employers with real choice for workers. The choice to have healthy working hours; sufficient hours of work for a decent wage to earn a living; a maximum amount of hours per day and/or week that allows workers, male and female, to also take care of one’s family or community, and to share this care with one’s partner; flexibility in working hours to be able to adapt working life to obligations and responsibilities outside the workplace.
This means that the Commission should make a clear proposal to the Council to:
- Bring an end to the ‘individual opt-out’ According to the ETUC view, the opt-out (allowing Member States not to apply the maximum 48 hour working week to individual workers who sign an opt-out agreement with their employer) is in direct contradiction to the aims and provisions of the directive itself, and an obstacle to creating a level playing field for companies across Europe.
- Allow for more flexibility in working time, especially with regard to annualized working hours, only on the basis of collective agreement. The ETUC is opposed to any moves to extend ‘reference periods’ for calculating the average working week without workers’ approval through collective bargaining procedures.
- Protect the health and safety of all workers, regardless of their position.
The existing Directive allows to exclude some groups of employees, including managing executives and ‘family workers’ from cover Both exclusions are currently too vague, potentially applying to a wide range of workers. These exclusions should be reassessed and, if they are still required, a more limited and precise definition introduced.
- Promote a progressive reduction in working hours. The long-hours culture is an obstacle to achieving the EU’s Lisbon objectives, and especially to boosting the participation of women and older workers in the labour force. European workers deserve time for their families, their communities, for learning and for leisure.
- Recognise on-call hours in the workplace as working time. Some of the EU-15, as well as several of the new Member States, are turning to the opt-out in response to the ECJ rulings defining on-call hours as working time. Luxembourg is also applying it in the catering sector. The ETUC rejects any move to exclude on-call time from working hours as defined in the Directive, and calls on the Commission to discourage countries from using the opt-out in response to short-term problems, but to involve the social partners in reaching long-term solutions.
Provide for better enforcement and monitoring of the Directive.
- Help both male and female workers to combine work and family life. More flexible working time for enterprises does not necessarily offer workers more flexibility in their private lives. Yet a win-win solution reconciling firms’ and workers’ needs should be possible. The Directive already offers enough flexibility for employers. The Commission should now look at ways to help workers reconcile professional and family life.
More than ten years after the adoption of the original Directive, the ETUC is urging the European Commission and other European institutions to take courageous steps to establish decent working hours for a decent wage in the EU.
Although the ETUC believes the current consultation process to be flawed, it has launched a campaign encouraging all its affiliated organisations to respond to the European Commission’s invitation for Internet feedback by demanding a stronger Working Time Directive that protects all European workers from long and hazardous working hours.
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