Debate on European Working Time Directive

11 March 2009

House of Commons debates forthcoming changes under the European Working Time Directive relating to the bringing into force of a maximum 48-hour working week for UK workers.

The Commons considered an Opposition motion and a Government amendment:

Opposition motion:

Mr David Cameron, Mr Andrew Lansley, Mr Mark Francois, Mr Stephen O’Brien, Mark Simmonds, Mr Patrick McLoughlin

That this House opposes the forthcoming blanket imposition in Britain of the 48-hour working week under the European Working Time Directive in August 2009; welcomes improvements in the workplace which improve safety and general well-being but does not believe that the further implementation of the Directive is necessary to deliver this; notes in particular the potential impact on patient safety arising from reduced and inflexible working hours for NHS doctors; recognises the additional constraints imposed on the NHS by the SiMAP and Jaeger judgements; is disturbed by the negative impact of the Directive on medical training and on the viability of some frontline services; further notes that the New Deal for Doctors in 1991 would have secured the necessary reduction in junior doctors’ hours; regrets a series of missed opportunities to amend the worst aspects of the Directive since 2003; expresses solidarity with other member states who are finding the Directive impracticable, including the 15 countries that currently depend on derogation; further notes that the loss of the opt-out and the distinction between active and inactive on-call time would also be deeply damaging to British business and other public services such as those provided by retained fire-fighters; fully agrees with the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform that the UK should stand firm in support of the opt-out; deeply regrets that most Labour Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have failed to support the Government’s position; advises Labour MEPs to support the retention of the opt-out; and urges the Government to give full consideration to alternative solutions.

Government amendment:

The Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Alan Johnson, Secretary James Purnell, Secretary Jacqui Smith, Mr Pat McFadden

(a) Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘agrees it is right that no worker should be required to work longer than 48 hours per week averaged over 26 weeks unless he or she freely chooses to do so; notes the Government’s manifesto commitment to maintaining the individual opt-out from the European Working Time Directive; further notes the importance of the individual opt-out which is used by the UK along with 14 other EU member states; recognises that maintaining the individual opt-out is a key part of the UK’s flexible labour market and of particular importance during the current economic climate; understands the particular concerns related to the working of excessive hours in the medical professions and welcomes the significant progress that has been made in the NHS to reduce junior doctors’ hours; further notes the challenges faced as a result of the SiMAP and Jaeger judgements; further recognises that a solution is required in order to bring back much needed flexibility to the treatment of on-call time and compensatory rest time; welcomes the significant progress made in introducing the Working Time Directive across all clinical and staff groups within the NHS; further recognises that an extended derogation is necessary for a limited number of specialties and isolated, rural locations in order to ensure the efficient implementation of the Directive; and supports the continuing action to work with staff, clinicians, the British Medical Association and the Royal Colleges to ensure the workable implementation of the Working Time Directive to the benefit of patients and staff.’.

Image: PA Photos

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