PN040204G

IMMEDIATE

WEDNESDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2004

LORDS COMMITTEE ASK: IS THE UK'S LONG HOURS WORK CULTURE WORKING? ARE DOCTORS WORKING WHILE THEY ARE ASLEEP?

A new House of Lords Sub-Committee today launched a short inquiry examining the UK's "opt-out" from the EU Working Time Directive.

The Chairman of the Committee, Lord Williamson of Horton, said:

"On average UK workers spend more time at work than those in other Member States. Why is that and who benefits most?

"We recognise that employers need flexibility to meet global business challenges. We also appreciate that workers need protection from exploitation and the right to choose long hours if they want. Many people also want a better work/life balance. We need to re-examine the UK's "opt-out" from all these angles. 

"We must also investigate the implications of two recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgements which ruled that the time hospital doctors spent asleep while on-call could be counted as working time."

The inquiry aims to answer the following questions:

  • How is the UK's "opt-out" working?

  • How important is it to the UK's economy? What about other factors?

  • What are the consequences of the ECJ rulings about doctors on-call?

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. EU Sub-Committee G (Social Policy and Consumer Affairs) invites interested parties, including Employers' Organisations, Trades Unions and academic experts, to send in written evidence by Monday 23 February.

2. The Committee's findings will feed directly into the first phase of a European Commission review of the Directive.

3. Lord Williamson of Horton was Secretary-General of the European Commission from 1987 to 1997. He was created a Life Peer in 1999.

4. The other Members of Sub-Committee G are Baroness Brigstocke, Lord Colwyn, the Earl of Dundee, Baroness Greengross, Baroness Howarth, Lord Harrison, Lord Howie of Troon and Baroness Massey of Darwen.

5. The European Commission issued a Communication (COM(2003) 843 final/2) on 15 January 2004 which announced a consultation review of the EU Working Time Directive (directive 93/104/EC) of 23 November 1993.

6. The Directive sets a maximum average working week of 48 hours, including overtime, measured over a period of not more than four months.

7. The opt-out enables workers to work extra hours voluntarily. The period over which the average working week is calculated may be extended to six months.

8. The opt-out was due to be reviewed after seven years. The Commission consultation is the first step in that review.

9. A judgement of the European Court of Justice on the SiMAP (Sindicato de Medicos de Asistencia Publica) case from Spain in 2000 means that time spent by doctors on call in hospitals should be treated as working time, even if they were able to sleep for part of that time.

10. In 2003 the European Court of Justice ruling in the Jaeger (Landeshauptstadt Kiel & Norbert Jaeger) case from Germany added an entitlement to immediate "compensatory rest" if doctors have worked during their rest break.

11. The "Call for Evidence" inviting evidence is available on the Parliamentary website via www.parliament.uk

Further information from:

Gordon Baker, Clerk to Sub-Committee G (Social Policy and Consumer Affairs): Telephone: 020 7219 6635 E-mail: [email protected]

[ENDS]