A Lords report published today concludes that the UK should keep its controversial voluntary individual opt-out from the European Working Time Directive.

The voluntary opt-out gives individual workers the choice to decide if they want to work more than 48 hours a week.

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

"The voluntary individual opt-out is one of the best ways for the UK to preserve the flexibility it needs to thrive against intense global competition."

"Other EU Member States regularly extend the 48-hour week by collective agreement. But in the UK only 36 per cent of the total workforce, and only 22 per cent of those employed in the private sector, are covered by collective agreements."

"On the whole the opt-out seems to work well. We haven't found significant evidence of adverse health and safety consequences. The Government should look at ways of preventing workers from being coerced into working long hours if they don't want to. But it's important that those who want to work overtime should be able to do so."

"Employers should also find more innovative ways of avoiding long-hours working and encourage a good work/life balance."

In a separate press release the Committee outlines its major concerns about the consequences of extending the Directive to junior doctors from 1 August 2004.


1. A separate press release attached to this deals specifically with junior doctors' hours.

2. The Committee intend to feed this report into a consultative review of the Directive by the European Commission which ended on 31 March 2004. They have also called for an early debate in the House of Lords.

3. This is the first Report by Sub-Committee G of the European Union Select Committee of the House of Lords. The Sub-Committee was set up in January 2004 to enhance the House of Lords scrutiny of European legislative proposals on social policy and consumer affairs.

4. The Chairman of the Sub-Committee is Lord Williamson of Horton who was Secretary-General of the European Commission from 1987 to 1997.

5. The other members of the Committee are:

Baroness Brigstocke

Lord Colwyn

Lord Dundee

Baroness Greengross

Baroness Howarth of Breckland

Lord Harrison

Lord Howie of Troon

Baroness Massey of Darwen

6. The report is published by the Stationery Office: The Working Time Directive: A Response to the European Commission's Review, Lords Select Committee on the European Union, 9th Report, Session 2003−04, HL Paper 67, ISBN 0104004355, price £12.00. The full text of the report will be available on the internet via shortly after publication.

7. The Working Time Directive became law in the UK in 1998. It fixes the working hours at 48 hours in every 7 days, averaged over 4 months. Workers have the right to opt-out from this is they wish.

Further information from:

Gordon Baker

Clerk of the Sub-Committee, on 020 7219 6635

Jillian Bailey

Press and Publicity Officer (Committees), on 020 7219 8659

In a separate press release (attached) the Committee outlines its major concerns about the consequences of extending the Directive to junior doctors from 1 August 2004.