Create a free account to continue

EU Settles On Workweek Rules, Worker Rights

European Union nations agreed to let workers opt out of a maximum 48-hour workweek and to give more rights to temporary workers across the 27-nation bloc.

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- European Union nations agreed Tuesday to let workers opt out of a maximum 48-hour workweek and to give more rights to temporary workers across the 27-nation bloc.

The deal ends a long stalemate between a group of EU countries led by France, who wanted more worker rights, and those led by Britain, who demanded more flexible rules allowing employees to work overtime as they see fit.

The deal will give workers more flexible rights, said Marjeta Cotman, Slovenia's labor and social affairs minister, who chaired two days of talks in Luxembourg.

''We have succeeded in finding a key balance between the employment security of ... workers and labor market flexibility,'' Cotman said after an agreement was reached following all-night talks.

Britain lifted its long-held opposition to giving the EU's 8 million temporary workers the same conditions as full-time employees -- unless a collective agreement says otherwise -- but maintained its opt-out from a 1993 EU law that limits the workweek across the union to 48 hours.

''It provides a fair deal for workers without damaging Britain's economic competitiveness or putting jobs at risk,'' said British Business Secretary John Hutton.

But the EU's trade unions confederation denounced the deal and said it would lobby the European Parliament -- which needs to approve the rules before they can take effect -- to change it.

''The agreement on working time is highly unsatisfactory and unacceptable, in respect of the new provisions on on-call work and the continuation of the U.K. opt-out,'' said John Monks, head of the European Trade Union Confederation.

Workers cannot be forced to opt out from the maximum 48-hour week but can do so based on an agreement with the trade unions or other bodies regulating work.

The new bill was drafted after the EU's highest court in Luxembourg ruled in 2000 that time spent on call must be counted as working time.

Several proposals on how to change the current labor rules have fallen through over the last four years.

Poland, Estonia and other states also wanted to maintain an opt-out from the 48-hour workweek, which is currently calculated as an average over a four-month period. Under the new rules, it will be calculated over six months.

Countries such as France and Sweden have long believed in social protections aimed largely at guaranteeing the balance between work and private life.

Britain, on the other hand, bases its business culture on an American model that keeps government interference at a minimum in the belief that freedom promotes growth and opportunity.

Some European countries use the labor loophole mainly for their health care and emergency services. But in Britain, it is widely used across the private and public sector.

More in Labor