The Working Time Directive refers to the European Union (EU) initiative meant to safeguard workers from the employer’s exploitation. This initiative specifies the regulations on the following issues: how long should employees work, what is the number of breaks and public holidays they should have. According to Barnard (2000), one of the primary objectives of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) is to ensure that no worker in the European Union is forced to work for more than 48 hours averagely in a week. In this regard, this paper examines why the British should abolish the opt-out, which is a contentious issue in the EWTD.
The directive was implemented at EU-level in 1993, but the United Kingdom did not adopt it until 1998. The EWTD has become news presently because the European Commission suggested some changes to it in 2004. Most recently, the member states of EU and the European Parliament have reacted to these changes. The European Parliament voted on various suggested amendments in 2005. However, the member states of EU have not been able to find a common ground. The opt-out is among the most contentious issues that have resulted to this situation. The opt-out, according to Gall (2011), is a measure that enables employees to agree to opt-out of the directive of working 48 hours in a week. Employers in various states utilise the opt-out, though it is widely recognised in Malta and the UK.
The majority of the European Parliament – about 421 members – voted against letting the individuals to opt-out of this limit. The assembly of the European community has maintained two important positions concerning the implementation of opt-outs. The first position is phasing out this initiative. According to MacShane (2012), majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEP) support the abolition of opt-outs initiative contained in the working time directive. The second position of the EP is that any period of on-call time such as inactive time must be regarded as working time. The European Commission and many governments support the idea of an active on-call time. NHS (2011) defined the on-call time as a period during which an employee need to be present at the workplace in order to work as required by his or her employer. On the other hand, inactive aforementioned term refers to a period during which an employee is on call but not required by his or her employer to work.
The opt-out opponents have argued that it results in social dumping. Waterfield (2010) and MacShane (2012) voiced out their views on why they oppose the opt-out initiative presently. They stated: the resultant social dumping opens the possibility for nations with more partial regulations compete with an added advantage over the other ones with more socially improved regulations. Gall (2011) further added that the proposal of social Europe and of Europe of citizens empties the contents of international conventions and contents of regulations. By Barnard (2000), the proposal destroys the collective negotiation as primary social dialogue instrument.
Another reason why the opt-outs need to be abolished – it is extremely hard to demonstrate that it has any considerable effect in inhibition of the economic growth. Since the implementation of the working time directive the level of opt-out clauses, permitting employees to go beyond their maximum number of hours allowed, has significantly increased. In fact, the position of opt-outs has grown so much that other members of the European Union want it to be restricted or abolished.
There is a significant evidence that long working hours can result in the inefficient use of labour. For instance, the research conducted by Barnard (2000) on small companies shows that, when workers are asked to perform additional shifts to meet the demand, almost half of them go sick the following week. As such, abolishing opt-outs will result in the reduction of working hours to a maximum of 48 hours, which, in turn, improves employees’ efficiency. Consequently, opt-outs seem not to always pay off. In other words, reducing the working hours can improve employees’ efficiency at workplace. Additionally, phasing out the opt-outs will result in lessened costs to companies in Britain. This is because companies will not have to pay employees for overtime engagement.
By the words of Barnard (2000), some companies might be over dependent on the opt-out. There are presently certain enterprises that have yet to start the process of reorganizing working patterns. Moreover, MacShane (2012) mentioned some of the instances where workers were motivated to negotiate in the perception that opt-out will be abolished due to the review of the EWTD in 2003. An example of a dairy farm, where 70 hours working week was a norm because of the demand to meet the supermarket requirements, perfectly illustrates this situation. The firm had shifted to ‘annualised hours’, offering workers a wide range of patterns between 40 and 38 hours weekly. The dairy company started to produce the same quantity of milk more efficiently. Gall (2011) argued that such instances of negotiation based on an anticipated change showed that the use of opt-out was an inhibition to innovation.
The belief that anything what stops the unimpeded work of the free market is an insult to both individual liberty and the right of employees to act as they deem fit – is one more reason why this initiative should be phased out. Margaret Thatcher and Tories detested the opt-outs based on this belief. This belief was spoken out with in the manner of the “European Union caregiver state” overwhelming the entrepreneurial British business spirit.
According to Barnard (2000), the European Working Time Directive is affecting the British public services and business. Gall (2011) also claimed that safeguarding the opt-out directive is critical to business. Also, Barnard (2000) indicates that British should have a robust possible protection for the National Health Services (NHS) and other services by implementing a permanent opt-out of European Union legislations.
He pointed out as well that a tough European Union regulation, including the opt-outs, can increase the business’ and public services expenditures just at the time when Britain must reduce costs in order to ensure economic growth (Barnard 2000). The Open Europe, just as the nation, strives to emerge from a recession. But the yearly cost of abolishing the opt-out will be 12 billion euros. This annual cost will result from preventing 3.2 million employees from working more than 48 hours a week.
In conclusion, the Working Time Directive specifies the regulations on the following issues: how long should employees work, what is the number of breaks and public holidays they should have. The majority of European Parliament – about 421 members – voted against the implementation of opt-outs. The opponents of opt-out have argued that it results in social dumping. Another reason why the analysed initiatives need to be abolished is grounded in the fact that it is extremely difficult to demonstrate that it has any considerable effect in inhibition of the economic growth. There is a significant evidence that long working hours can result in the inefficient use of labour. There are presently certain companies that have yet to start the process of reorganizing working patterns.