May 11, 2005

The working time directive

The E.U. is now trying to scrap Britains opt-out from the working time directive. This is clearly another attack by the europeans on the freedom and human rights of people everywhere. It will of course be a disaster for everyone, which is probably why they are doing it.

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  1. Not going to be a disaster for everyone. The important thing about issues such as this is recognizing why such legislation is put forward, namely that there are cases in which the opt-out gives employers too much control over employees effectively bypassing the employees right not work longer than 48 hours. This is not to say I'm in favour of the legislation (certain professions are screwed by it), but being mindlessly anti-europe and claiming the big bad european monster has come to take our rights away is just counter-productive, if not just wrong.

    11 May 2005, 18:17

  2. The right not to work longer than 48 hours is not infringed by the opt-out, but the right to work longer than 48 hours is infringed by the removal of the opt-out. The point is that it is far better for employers to have some control over employees than for the state (or Europe, which is pretty much the same thing now) to have total control over both.

    11 May 2005, 18:38

  3. "Not going to be a disaster for everyone."

    No, just the remaining EU members with productive economies.

    Will we still have an optout for health service workers as France & Germany do, or will we lose that too?

    11 May 2005, 18:38

  4. Thomas Paine

    Nice point, Peter. Seems to me like it's a good thing if employers are reigned in when in it comes to the amount of hours they can force an employee to work.

    If you want to talk about freedom and human rights, William, how about a person's right to not work so hard that he/she has little life outside work? This is especially important nowadays when work-related stress is increasing.

    Also, your comment that "the europeans" are trying to attack "the freedom and human rights of people everywhere" smacks of xenophobia. It might also be worth remembering that Britons are also Europeans. Sounds to me like you need to stop reading the Daily Mail and get some perspective, fella!

    11 May 2005, 18:48

  5. Since I don't read the Daily Mail, or any tabloids for that matter, I don't quite know what you are refering to there, Thomas. When i say "the europeans", I of course mean the E.U., which is, as ever, sticking it's nose in where it doesn't belong. To call my comments xenophobic betrays a complete misunderstanding of what xenophobia is; it certainly isn't distrust in, and dislike of an organisation which is destroying freedom and independance not just in Britain, but across Europe. As I have said before, the problem with this law is that it restrict a person's right to choose how much to work. If someone wants to work 10, 20, or 30 hours a week there is nothing stopping them. If they want to work 50 hours, and earn more money so they can buy a house, for example, this law will prevent them from doing so.

    11 May 2005, 19:10

  6. I agree with Mr Wolfendale. I also think the EU Commission is running out of good ideas for directives – perhaps it should SLOW DOWN and THINK a little. Recently we have been menaced by the Bolkenstein directive which intends to render social law 'personal' rather than geographical – i.e. companies orignating in one member state will be able to transport the national law of another member state when they set up business in the destination member state. Hello! The last time law operated in this way Europe was occupied by the Romans! British workers subjected to Latvian labour law – perish the thought – and before you call me xenophobic Mr pain in the back Paine I would just to remind you that I am studing international labour law, so I know what I'm talking about. (Though I agree with you: our culture promotes competition, stress and burnt out far too much). However, we have just received 10 accession member states whose GDP is significantly below that of Western Europe – even more thn ourselves they cannot afford to be subjected to a 48 hour working week – they will not be able to compete with the rest of the EU. This is technically known as 'social dumping.'

    11 May 2005, 19:47

  7. Thomas Paine

    Okay William, so my comment about the Daily Mail was rather flippant, but the language you were using was reminiscent of the language used by the tabloids to sensationalise the kind of issues you are discussing. And I you mean the E.U., then say the E.U. rather than "the europeans", otherwise you will give the impression that your criticism of a particular directive is thinly veiled xenophobia.

    I suppose you think it is a good thing if people have to work 50 hours a week to be able to afford a house?

    Something that strikes me about the debates surrounding the E.U. is that when a number of countries are working together for the good of the whole, there may have to be concessions made by individual countries. These concessions might be offset by gains in other areas.

    Alexander, I'm not sure where your insult came from, but it wasn't very polite! This is a forum for intellgent debate and cheap name calling has no place here….

    11 May 2005, 20:30

  8. Peter J Thomas

    There are various consequences linked to a contravention of health and safety work regulations agreed by the majority of member states. The most important argument is that for all the freedom of working hours the health of EU nations requires the establishment of a work/recreation balance. More flexible and longer available work time may mean more freedom of choice but potentially poorer health and less efficiency. Maintaining a balance is crucial to the nation's interests but more obviously its' just common sense. You can flood this topic with ideological bullshit arguing about infringement on one's right to choose and more legislation from that bureaucratic monster that is the EU but this aside, the state has a welfare responsibility to its citizens and needs to keep employers in check. I believe the scrapping of the opt-out is positive interventionism that shouldn't be readily dismissed at face value by our traditional euro-skepticist cynicism.

    11 May 2005, 21:25

  9. Mr Paine, my apologies if I came across as offensive. I called you a pain in the back because you seem to do nothing but criticise other contributors' points of view. Your description of Mr Lees as 'xenophobic' -he merely used 'Europe' as a synonym for the EU - and your outlandish comment that he might be a perspectiveless Daily Mail reader, clearly intended to insult his intelligence, were uncalled for and ex nihilo, though to your credit you have since apologised for these remarks. Furthermore your own tone is caustic and you show little respect for political opinions that differ from your own, and my own as it happens. You are missing the point – I don't know whether you do so intentionally or not. First of all, with the opt-out employers are not able to 'force' an employee to work more than 48 hours if he or she doesn't wish to, but with the opt out gone the employee will not have the option to work 48 hours a week (9 til 5, 6 days a week) whether or not he or she wishes. (And some people do, actually, want to work more, for economic or ulterior reasons). This will further stagnate the economies of western Europe, while leaving the accession states unable to keep up. Inevitably this will, in turn increase the incidence of illegal work and maintain the rich and poor divide between Western and Eastern Europe. You assume that the EU is a group of nations working together for the good of the whole. Though the EU has produced beneficial legal reforms some of the measures it has introduced – such as the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies have been disasterous for the UK. The organisation is also rife with corruption.

    11 May 2005, 23:15

  10. Peter, you say that the state has a welfare responsibility to it's citizens. I don't believe that to be the case. In my opinion, the welfare of citizens is the responsibility of those citizens, and is beyond the remit of the state. Maintaining a balance between work and other aspects of life is, as you say, important. But this balance can be far more effectively achieved by market forces than by state intervention. If efficiency decreases due to working hours being too long, then it is in the interests of the employer to reduce them. There is of course a level at which efficiency and health are greatest, but that level will be different in different circumstances, and can be better found by those involved than by being set arbitrarily and uniformly across the continent.

    11 May 2005, 23:29

  11. I believe the state has a welfare responsibility to it's citizens when the citzenship elect the state – the Rousseauian Social Contract – and the state is answerable to those citizens. However, this is not the case with the EU! I am skeptical that market forces can strike the balance between work and other aspects of life – if this were the case then the working directive would not have been proposed, and employers can always make inefficient workers redundant, though within the safeguards of the law. I nonetheless agree with Mr Lees that a pan European 48 hour working week is a very 'one size fits all' and rather draconian measure – if not an arbitrary one (I am sure the EU commission did a fair amount of research on the subject before putting the measure before the Parliament). I think a grassroots change in the attitude and expectations of society would be far more effective.

    11 May 2005, 23:48

  12. Peter J Thomas

    In essence yes William and i am a firm believer in the free market economy too but if you say that everyone is responsible for their own welfare i think it is a little unrealistic. Im not for the nanny statists but plenty of people would work over the healthy limit if the opt out was not declined. By intervening – and i must stress that a single limitation of this kind would only be enforced by both the right and left of Europe if it were absolutely necessary – you tie in the interests of the business and the nation with healthy and productive workers more inclined to work harder. The freedom of choice thing works if you want greedy workers to burn money over the limit than spend time rearing the family and enjoying life in the EU. You seem to suggest that you'd trust corporatists to deliver a better provision towards worker welfare and health at the expense of profits. Im not sure of this.

    12 May 2005, 00:02

  13. Peter J Thomas

    In this case 'one size fits all' works. Britain would have an unfair advantage over the other members states if the opt out was kept. Also we are all humans and all have similar limitations ie – the maximum amount of time we are capable of working without compromising our quality of life. This is a petty sacrifice to make for a world of good – all other EU states have compromised so why should we remain the exception to the rule again. There are certain issues ie the euro where we should not follow the federalist route but since the hour limitation is such rudimentary common sense…

    12 May 2005, 00:08

  14. "In this case 'one size fits all' works." That's why the Eurozone's economy is stagnant then.

    "Britain would have an unfair advantage over the other members states if the opt out was kept" We can get rid of that "unfair advantage", abolish the working time directive. It's only there due to trade union power in more left-wing nations like France.

    "Also we are all humans and all have similar limitations ie – the maximum amount of time we are capable of working without compromising our quality of life" So don't work longer than 48 hours. No-one can force you to unless your circumstances demand it

    "all other EU states have compromised so why should we remain the exception to the rule again" Because it's a rule that doesn't work. Again, get rid of the working time directive. One of your main problems appears to be that we are an exception. Well, despite what the EU might want us to believe, there is no single standard of being European. Each nation has its own culture, and trying to make laws for each of those cultures won't work. But overriding one nations traditions in favour of anothers is worryingly similar to one of those areas that Europe doesn't like to talk about. It's called colonialism.

    And William says " In my opinion, the welfare of citizens is the responsibility of those citizens, and is beyond the remit of the state." Under the basic principles of the UK's system of government, the state is the servant of the electorate. Under the more continental method (i.e France again) the people are the servants of the state. Of course. Gordon's doing his best to change us over, so don't worry. (See the Guardian's jobs pages, it's actually scary how many pointless government jobs there are now). The worst part is that public sector jobs are generally not good at wealth creation, so a countrys economy falters and fades.

    12 May 2005, 00:34

  15. I beleive that people will choose how much to work based on overall happiness, not just how much they earn. Placing a legal limit on this is a restriction of that choice, and could harm a lot of people. The reason that I trust employers to provide provision for worker welfare is that it is in their interest to do so. An unhappy, inefficient work force is a big problem for a company, and it is definately in the interests of profit to ensure that employees are healthy and happy. Britain would indeed have an advantage over other EU countries if the opt-out is kept, but damaging Britain's economy because others choose to damage their own is no help to anyone. India, the USA, and many other countries would then have that advantage over the whole of the EU, as they already have in several other areas, such as tax.

    12 May 2005, 01:36

  16. I've put together a more complete response to a few points on my blog for those who are interested.

    12 May 2005, 18:36

  17. I havenīt got time to read all the comments full and havenīt fully read up on the new rules, but the face value points I will make are this, feel free to correct anythings that are wrong as it comes from a relatively uninformed viewpoint.

    I worked 65–70 hours a week last summer, this was my own choice and amounted to two basically full time jobs, nobody forced me to do it. It gave me the opportunity to get myself out of the massive amount of debt I was in. I would defend my right to have done this, because I hadnīt I would have been under a significant amount of finanicial related stress this year. It might be the new rules would have allowed me to do the same (Is it 48 hours in one job or in total? The summer was less than four months which I recall as a figure for when the rules kick in)

    Just because there are rules saying people canīt work moire than 48 hours doesnīt mean they wonīt be forced to. If they were forced into opting out (surely the biggest issue) and working more, then they may well have been paid for it. This might result in people being made to work longer, but having to put 48 hours on their timesheet.

    Should we be ī"protecting people from themselves" which is a quote I saw somewhere, I donīt think so, it sounds disturbingly big brotherish to me. Why should my right to work longer (when I want to) be taken away. The people who should be targeted are employers who break the rules, not individuals who want to work more.

    13 May 2005, 14:15


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