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Pressure grows to end long hours culture

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The TUC publishes a report today identifying the UK’s failure to meet the European Working Time Directive. Tomorrow (Tuesday 5th February) the trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt is expected to commit the government to changing this pattern. Currently the UK has an opt-out from the European directive, but the TUC is advising the governement not to seek to continue this beyond 2003, when it’s due for review. However, the CBI claims that this would constitute over-regulation and would damage competitiveness.

According to the TUC’s report, more people are working in excess of the European 48-hours-a-week limit than they were ten years ago, with managers and professionals topping the long hours league. Nearly 4 million employees (16%) are now working more than 48 hours a week – 350,000 more than in 1992. Most are men, with one in four now working more than 48 hours, despite the evidence that working very long hours is bad for people’s health which led to the European Union to introduce the working time directive that became law in the UK in 1998. One in ten men work even longer hours. Nearly one and a quarter million work more than 55 hours a week – almost a seven day week of normal eight hour days. One in 25 men (4%) work more than 60 hours.

The UK tops the European long hours league, and is the only country that allows staff to opt out of the 48 hour limit. The average working week is 43.6 hours in the UK compared to an EU average of 40.3 hours. Many European countries, including those more productive than the UK, have tougher limits on hours. Austria, Finland, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Spain and Sweden all have 39 or 40 hour limits, and France has a 35 hour week.

The TUC report, About Time: a new agenda for shaping working life, finds that over half of all managerial and professional employees working extra hours say that they are doing so to deal with excessive workloads, while around 70% of skilled and manual employees say that they are earning overtime pay. Managerial and professional employees are the most likely to be working long hours – 2.25million of them are working in excess of 48 hours. Over two fifths (41%) of men in management jobs are working more than 48 hours compared with the national average for all employees of 16%.

TUC General Secretary John Monks said: “Britain’s long hours culture is a national disgrace. It leads to stress, ill health and family strains. But even worse it’s an indictment on how badly we manage work in the UK. Half the country is caught in a vicious circle of low pay, low productivity and long hours, with the other half trapped in their offices and battling ever growing in-trays. Other countries produce more, earn more and work far shorter hours. We should, and can, do the same, if employers, unions and government work together.”

However, the CBI is resisting pressure to enforce the European working time regulations, urging the governement to retain opt-out by employee choice. Responding to a TUC report on working hours, John Cridland, CBI Deputy Director-General, said: “Workers want the right to make their own decisions about working extra hours. Managerial workers often work longer hours because they want to. Operational staff often work longer hours because they are paid for it. Neither group will thank the government for intervening. They don’t want a nanny state.

“Regulation has a role to play. The Working Time Directive gives people the right to say ‘no’ to working extra hours. But having the existing individual opt out from the 48-hour limit also gives people the right to say ‘yes’. The CBI will vigorously defend that right.

“Over regulation can severely damage competitiveness. The 35-hour working week in France has been so controversial it’s had employers marching in the streets. There may be a culture of working long hours in some firms, but it is wrong for the TUC to describe this as a ‘national disgrace’. Reducing long hours should be a matter of individual choice.”


Regional information from the report

561,000 Londoners (19%) work more than 48 hours a week. In London, 44% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while just 6% want to work for longer.

315,000 workers in the East Midlands (18%) do more than 48 hours a week. In the East Midlands, 37% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while just 7% want to work for longer.

632,000 workers in the South East (17%) do more than 48 hours a week. In the South East, 44% of employees want to work less hours. Eleven per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while just 7% want to work for longer.

400,000 workers in the East of England (17%) do more than 48 hours a week. In the East of England, 42% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while just 6% want to work for longer.

324,000 workers in the South West (16%) do more than 48 hours a week. In the South West, 42% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while 9% want to work for longer.

355,000 workers in the West Midlands (16%) do more than 48 hours a week. In the West Midlands, 43% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while 8% want to work for longer.

318,000 workers in Yorkshire and Humberside (15%) do more than 48 hours a week. In Yorkshire and Humberside, 42% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while 8% want to work for longer.

138,000 workers in the North East (14%) do more than 48 hours a week. In the North East, 40% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while another 10% want to work for longer.

304,000 workers in Scotland (14%) do more than 48 hours a week. In Scotland, 39% of employees want to work less hours. Nine per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while 10% want to work for longer.

148,000 workers in Wales (13%) do more than 48 hours a week. In Wales, 37% of employees want to work less hours. Eight per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while 9% want to work for longer.

373,000 workers in the North West (13%) do more than 48 hours a week. In the North West, 43% of employees want to work less hours. Ten per cent said they would rather work less hours for less pay, while just 7% want to work for longer.

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