Talks to secure a new opt-out deal for Britain from the Working Time Directive have been shelved after ministers failed to agree on a solution.
The EU Directive ensures a 48-hour working week – but in Britain workers are able to opt out and work longer if they wish. Britain wants to hang onto the deal but a group of countries, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Cyprus want an end to the opt out clause.
Austria, which currently holds the EU presidency, has offered a compromise deal which would allow Britain to opt out of a 48-hour working week but would set a limit of 65 hours.
It also proposes that the opt out should be renewable annually with companies having to explain to their workers why they are required to work long hours. In addition, there should be a cooling off period of one month for any new joiner in which they could change their mind about agreeing to opt out.
EU employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla also wants to change the Directive’s wording to make it clear that the opt-out is the exception and the 48-hour week is the rule – but he is prepared to let Britain keep the opt-out indefinitely if those conditions are met.
According to the FT Britain’s trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling is happy to strike a deal providing he can obtain a ‘legally watertight opt-out’ as it will end the uncertainty over the length of time Britain can keep the opt-out. But the opposing countries are not happy with the deal.
Talks will continue when Finland take over the EU presidency in July.