Azara Blog: TUC wants British employees to work fewer hours

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Date published: 2005/05/30

The BBC says:

The TUC has launched an attack on the "myths" which it says surround the UK's opt-out on EU working hours rules.

Its report argues that Britain's long hours culture is bad for workers' health, and harming productivity.

This week the government will try to thwart a move by the European Parliament to end Britain's opt-out over the maximum 48-hour working week.

The TUC estimates 16% of the UK labour force - some 3.9m people - work more than 48 hours per week.

Tony Blair has said he wants to maintain British competitiveness.

The TUC says investigations have shown that regularly working more than 48 hours a week increases the risk of a range of illnesses, from heart disease to mental illness.

It disputes employers' claims that workers are keen to do large amounts of overtime. In fact, says the report, most of the extra hours are unpaid.

The TUC says the government's own research shows that two-thirds of workers putting in more than 48 hours a week have not signed an opt-out from the working time directive, which they are required to do by law.

The TUC also argues that excessive hours undermine economic performance. Despite working longer than most other EU members, Britain ranks only tenth in terms of productivity per hour.

Trade unions are stepping up their lobbying effort ahead of a meeting of EU employment ministers later this week.

Full-time workers in the UK work for an average of 44 hours, compared with about 40 hours in the 14 other longstanding EU member states, according go the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

The ETUC says around two-thirds of British workers are unaware of the 48-hour limit.

The UK is not the only country to opt-out from the 48-hour week.

Malta also opts-out, while Luxembourg has a limited opt-out for the hotel and catering industry.

Germany, France and Spain introduced an opt-out for the health sector after a ruling by the European Court of Justice, which said that time spent on-call counted as work.

The European Parliament has already voted to end the opt-out. But the move must also be supported by ministers.

The government says it is confident that will not happen.

The Department of Trade and Industry estimated that, in spring 2003, 20.4% of full-time employees usually worked more than 48 hours, compared to 23.3% in spring 1998.

First and foremost this article shows, as to be expected, that the various interested parties cannot even agree on the data. Interestingly the DTI estimates more British employees work more than 48 hours than the TUC does. And although the ETUC says the average full-time UK employee works 44 hours versus 40 for the other 14 "longstanding" EU member state, a chart in the BBC article implies that Eurostat estimates, for example, 43 hours for the UK and nearly 41 for France (which allegedly has a 35-hour working week). This is not a huge difference. And there is no good reason for the averages to be exactly the same, or to aim for that.

And what can you make of the statement: "Despite working longer than most other EU members, Britain ranks only tenth in terms of productivity per hour." Well if Britain only ranks tenth in productivity per hour then that is a bloody good reason why British workers need to work longer hours than other EU workers. Of course the TUC might argue that you could cut working hours and still maintain the same amount of overall productivity. Probably not too many people believe that. And who is it for the TUC or anyone else to say that someone cannot work longer hours if they want to, as long as the general (e.g. safety) rules are followed.

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