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(en) Catalist #8 - Problems at work No.6: Legal update

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 27 Oct 2003 11:11:03 +0100 (CET)

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In August, new European regulations
came into force to clarify and
strengthen the Working Time Regulations
WTR). These introduced limits on working
hours for the first time in the UK.
The WTR gave most UK workers seven basic
rights, including rights to paid holidays and a
ceiling on the maximum average working week.
But the initial legislation allowed some temporary
exemptions where employers in certain sectors
argued that they needed time to comply with the
law. It has also left an opt-out clause that gives
workers the choice to work longer hours.
The basic rights and protections that the
Regulations provide are:
a limit to 48 hours a week which a worker
can be required to work (though workers
can choose to work more if they want to).
a limit of an average of 8 hours work in 24
which nightworkers can be required to
a right for night workers to receive free
health assessments.
a right to 11 hours rest a day.
a right to a day off each week.
a right to an in-work rest break if the
working day is longer than six hours.
a right to four weeks paid leave per year.
Although this is good news for some workers
who have had no protection from excessive
working days, its unfortunate that junior doctors,
workers in the North Sea, and transport staff
have had to wait five years longer than most for
hese rights.
Now, this seems all very good, but the
problem is that there is also no guarantee that
workers will see the benefits of the new
protections. Under the UK opt-out to the
working time rules, it is far too easy for
employers to pressure staff to work more than
48 hours a week.
Britain has the dubious honour of topping the
eague in Europe with the longest average
working week, 43.6 hours compared with an EU
average of 40.3 hours. Most European countries
have set their working time limits below
48 hours, and the UK is the only EU country
still with an opt-out.

The European Commission will debate this later in the year, but
already the bosses have been pushing the
government for employees to be allowed to work
more than 48 hours in a week. They fear that
removing employees right to opt out of the
European Working Time Directive could be
catastrophic for business, or, in other words,
for their profit margins.
The CBI Director general, Digby Jones has
claimed the opt-out was needed for a flexible
labour market (workers doing more for less) and
that workers dont want unions and politicians
telling them when they can work or for how long
(but apparently the bosses can).
Given the unequal relationship between the
employers and the workforce this is nonsense.
The governments own statistics suggest that
many employees want to spend less time at the
office, even if fewer hours mean less money.
Many workers simply dont get a choice whether
or not to work long hours and bosses seem
obsessed with making workers accept long
hours in many industries.
Pressure is exerted in many ways and a lot of
workers feel bullied into staying late. For others,
the workplace culture means that leaving on time
is seen as letting the team down. What we do
know is that working long hours can lead to
unnecessary stress, and people with excessive
days are more likely to have accidents at work.
The bosses are adept at picking people off
one by one so the only way to bring to an end the
culture of more hours for less pay is by sticking
together and resisting collectively. Dont be
pressured into working longer hours; it benefits
no-one but the bosses.
Write in for a full & frank answer to a problem at work,
or contact the ansaphone helpline for advice - 07984 675 281
Catalyst, SF, PO Box 29, SW PDO, Manchester M15 5HW.

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