Labour Research January 2012

Law Matters

Working time changes

Working time rules in the UK are under threat from a deal made by the UK with two European partners.

Last year, the European Commission published a report on the implementation of the Working Time Directive by the member states, launched two consultations of the social partners (that is, worker and employer representatives), and published an impact assessment study on proposed changes.

The second of the two consultations resulted in the social partners agreeing to engage in further talks. Under Article 155 of the treaty of the functioning of the EU, these talks must be concluded within nine months and if agreement is reached, the parties can ask for the agreement to be formalised as a Directive.

The Commission must present any agreement reached between the social partners to the Council (leaders of the member states) who then vote by qualified majority on whether to accept or reject it — amendment by the Council or Parliament being impermissible. If the social partners fail to reach an agreement, then the Commission presents its own proposals.

Separately, prime minister David Cameron is reportedly seeking to repatriate the power to set working time rules — particularly in relation to the maximum working week and on-call work. However, it is not clear what the situation is following his blocking of the treaty changes sought by German chancellor Merkel and French president Sarkozy in their attempt to tackle the European debt crisis.