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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Better rights for long hours staff
Oil rig
Oil rig safety reps are threatening to resign, says a union
More than three quarters of a million British employees will win protection from working excessive hours from Friday.

The move extends the EU working time directive to previously excluded jobs, limiting the working week to 48 hours.

The new rules come just three days after unions at British Airways reached a deal aimed at limiting excessive hours and potential abuse of shift patterns at Heathrow airport.

Aviation ground staff and baggage handlers are among those who should benefit from Friday's changes.

Oil rig row

Some road transport workers, such as taxi drivers and white van drivers, will also gain.

But oil rig workers - which had also expected to be included - are at the centre of a dispute between government and unions over what they they are entitled to.

Under the European Union Working Time Directive, some workers will also be entitled to four weeks' paid annual leave, health assessments if working nights and adequate rest.

The European Union Working Time Directive was implemented in 1998, as part of the Social Chapter.

While the vast majority of workers were included under the original measures, a number of sectors were excluded.

Industry concern

The changes coming in on 1 August 2003 will further extend the directive to 770,000 extra workers - but many others will still not be protected from excessive hours.

HGV drivers, airline flying personnel and junior doctors will be gradually brought within the provisions of the directive over the next few years.

Summary: New regulations*
An average 48-hour working week
Four weeks' paid annual holiday
Rest breaks
Health assessments for night workers
An 8-hour limit on night working
*Can vary

For example, in the case of junior doctors, the government does not theoretically have to impose a 48 hour week for junior doctors until August 2007, although working time restrictions must be phased in by 2009.

HGV drivers will be exempt from the directive until March 2005.

The industry is particularly concerned about the directive's impact which, according to a report from the Road Haulage Association, will mean at least 60,600 additional drivers will be required and operational costs will increase by 3.8bn.

Offshore workers

Employees can choose to opt out of the Working Time Directive, but can not be forced to by their employer.

Opting out can not be a condition of employment and a worker can not be sacked for opting out.

Oil rig workers are supposed to be covered by the directive from 1 August 2003, but the government and unions are disagreeing over a key measure of the directive - an entitlement to four weeks' holiday.

When will excluded workers be covered?
Junior doctors: Basic provisions 1 August 2004 (48 hour week phased in by 1 August 2009)
Civil aviation airborne personnel: 1 December 2003 (Social Partners' Aviation Directive)
HGV drivers: March 2005

Workers on oil rigs typically work 26 weeks offshore and then have 26 weeks' onshore, as compensatory rest which for many oil workers is unpaid.

Gerry Sutcliffe, employment relations minister, has written to Amicus - which represents 7,000 offshore workers - requesting a compromise.

The government wants two weeks of the new holiday entitlement to be discounted from the 26 weeks' compensatory rest period.

While these two weeks will be paid, Amicus believes that none of the four weeks' holiday entitlement, under Working Time provisions, should be taken from the existing 26 weeks' onshore compensatory rest period.

The union is currently seeking legal advice, with plans to lodge an official complaint with the European Commission.

A spokesman for Amicus said the situation was a "blancmange", and that hundreds of North Sea Health and Safety Reps were threatening to resign over the government's refusal to implement the directive fully.

Your comments:

I am a Security Officer currently working twelve hour shifts, both day and night. Where do I stand?
Bernard, UK

Has it occurred to anyone that laws like this limit the amount one can earn and add to labour costs, thus bringing the productivity of business in this nation downwards? What this means is that those who are not covered by the Working Time Directive stand to pay higher taxes to support those who are. Longer term, the government will end up raising taxes to support those individuals who will have their potential income limited due to limitations on the number of hours they can work. Why should the governemnt, especially the EU, tell an indivdual how much he or she can work? In addition, businesses, especially transport, will certainly pass on to consumers the higher costs associated with this directive. This is a ridiculous directive and I am sorry to say that the UK is looking more and more socialist everyday. The competitive advantage of Britain appears to be on the decline. The EU should be liberalising its laws opposed to the UK socialising its own.
Kevin C., UK/America

The DTI should have a major rethink about this and give the offshore population the result to which they are entitled under European Law as of today's date
Ron, UK
Mariners are NOT covered by the Directive. I am Master of a British ship with British and other European crew members manning her, we are each contracted to work an 84 hour week. An element of the Directive, being paid for 4 weeks vacation in addition to our normal rest periods, does apply to the industry but has been ignored by most employers.
Richard, UK

I work in the City and although in theory we are entitled to sign up to the Working Time Directive, anybody who does so is likely to see their end of year bonus vanish to non-existence. They would also find themselves top of the redundancy list when the axe was falling.
Mike, UK

In reply to Kevin C, the government is not telling you that you have to limit your hours. It is telling companies that they cannot force you to work more hours than is specified in the directive. If somebody wants to opt out and work more hours, they can. And as for productivity being reduced, do you really think that if you work 50, 60 or 70 hours a week that you are going to be operating at peak performance for all of this time? No, I didn't think so. And it's often cheaper to employ extra people to cover the work than to pay existing staff for their overtime at a premium rate. The long hours culture is rightly becoming a thing of the past.

I signed the opt-out then changed my mind 3 months later after being forced to work 4 weekends in a row after a 55 hour week.
Steve, UK

The more we follow the thinking described by Kevin C, the more americanised become our working practices. Productivity probably does increase as do standards of living, but is the US the model for the kind of society we want? No thanks. There is more to life than more money.
Stephen, UK

As a former schoolmaster in a boarding school, 48 hours is a joke. Teaching all day and looking after the students at night would rack up many more hours than that. You then have Sport duties and other activities out of hours such as Music (my field) Outdoor Pursuits and a host of assorted clubs. There is also no less admin than any other school. This is one "Industry" that does not appear to have been looked at properly. Having said that, I would not have changed a bit of it!
Mike Gilfillan, UK/USA

Once again the greed of the oil companies is being highlighted. The UK government should take a long hard look at the Norwegian offshore set up, they work rotas of 2/3,2/4 or just 2/4, therefore taking a slight pay cut but also employing a great number of people, spreading more employment throughout the industry and having more time off to rest and to have a reasonable family life.
Chris, Scotland

When I started my role as a developer I was told that all staff were expected to sign an opt-out from the WTD although it wasn't compulsory. I signed the opt-out then changed my mind 3 months later after being forced to work 4 weekends in a row after a 55 hour week. My reward? I was removed from my project and told that there was no longer a requirement for me. Now I've been moved to an administrative role which uses none of my IT skills. What can I do?
Steve, UK

I received an opt out form for the working time directive along with the conditions of employment when I started my job. We weren't forced to sign but it would have been frowned upon if we had refused to work more than 48 hours a week. I work for a marketing agency and if a job needs doing, you do it regardless of how many 12 hours days and weekends you've worked. Your name would be top of the redundancy list if you thought it was OK to leave the office before your client was happy and the work was finished. To be honest, I'm grateful to have a job if I was unhappy with the long hours I'd leave.
Steph, UK

The way the Government, in the form of the DTI, has handled this is nothing short of scandalous. Having deliberated for over 3 years this 'Labour' government has once again collapsed at the feet of big business and abrogated their responsibility to govern by saying that it's too difficult for them to legislate! What are they there for then? Offshore workers should be entitled to the same rights as their onshore colleagues and their European counterparts. Although we get two weeks off after a two week trip we are working a minimum of 12 hours a day seven days a week while offshore in a hostile and unsociable environment. The oil companies are claiming that our holidays should be taken in our leave time. Onshore personnel do not take their holidays at the weekends so how does that work? Stress related illness and absenteeism have risen over the years throughout the North Sea as a result of the work loads and harsh environment and as the offshore population ages it will only get worse. The DTI should have a major rethink about this and give the offshore population the result to which they are entitled under European Law as of today's date.
Ron, UK

I work in the city of London for one of the banks. When you sign your contract usually the opt out form is next to the contract. Also if you do not opt out a time sheet has to be signed everyday. You are made to feel not part of the "team" and pulling your weight if you don't sign the opt out as it is seen as slacking not to work the long hours. I don't know anyone in the office who has not opted out.
Pete, UK

As i read it ,the directive doesn't cover airport security personnel. We work a 50 week roster which averages out at 42 hrs.,but because the 50 week period contains a 9 and 10 day rest period,we reguarly work 50 hrs plus in a single week and at times our working week is 60 or 64 hrs!!The airport says the roster meets it's business plan but it ruins our home life and most certainly affects our performance. It would appear nothing was learnt from the 11/9 tradgedy.
Pete, uk

Steve commented that he opted out of the WTD when the long hours on an IT project became unacceptable. It's not just the "management pressure".. there's also the peer pressure. It's very hard to walk out when colleages are working hong hours. I got a poor review from my manager for leaving on time (even though I got my work done!) and eventually gave up working in IT consultancy for the benefits of a better quality of life. I never did sign a WTD opt-out. I think that the opt-out allows management to divide and rule.
John, UK

According to some figures I saw this weekend in the Economist, UK now has a higher GDP than France. But we are less productive for every hour we work. So we have to work longer hours to be better off. That seems OK to me for the while; until we can get training and productivity levels up. Here, I work a 60 hour week, every week except for my four weeks annual leave. I earn a London salary, tax free and I don't have to live near London. I live in a city of about 400,000 people and it takes me 7 minutes to get to work - by car. If I worked 40 hours a week in London I would need 6 to 10 hours a week to travel to and from work. That additional travelling time is not part of the Brussel's directive and it cannot be classed as quality time.
David, Qatar (& UK)

Whilst fully accepting and endorsing the move to restrict abuse of working hours by company bossess and so on, this new legislation only extends to those workers on exessive 'formal' hours. What about those of us, who must number in the millions, that work excessive hours because it is excpected, required by the job (to get it done) or will result in lost promotions, warnings and possibly dismissal? I work a regular 50 hours per week (ironically in the oil industry - but office-based) and these hours are essential if I am to get the job done. God forbid that I arrive at 8.30 and leave at 5.00 - so ingrained is the philosophy that most of us feel guilty on those days where other comittments mean we have to leave on time. At what point will legislation be even considered to cover this group of people?
Tim Charters, UK

The victory of the Harrow workers is wonderful news. I am a caretaker reguarly having to work for two weeks without a break because I live in tied accommodation, I can be woken any time during the night to get someone in who has lost their key, respond to oap alarm system etc this after working from 8am till 6pm. some small hotel...No. I am employed by the corporation of london, great news at last for us, who have been trapped in tied accommodation for years, missing out on family life etc. A relieved caretaker

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