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Wednesday, September 30, 1998 Published at 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK

Business: The Economy

Boardroom blues over 48-hour week

Many bosses feel wrong-footed by the advent of the 48-hour week

The words "Working Time Directive" have caused panic and fear to spread though the UK's business community.

Real Video: Patrick Bartlett looks at the new working time directive
The newly created hotline at the Department of Trade and Industry has been inundated since it dawned on employers that the Working Time Directive, which enshrines the 48-hour working week, would be introduced on October 1.

While employment lawyers have thrown up their hands, saying the confusion of the directive could unleash thousands of industrial tribunals, companies fear they are not ready for the changes and will be in breach of the law.

Business outcry

The European Union directive, which could cost industry an estimated £2bn, has caused an outcry from boardrooms.

Employment Lawyer Jonathan Hearn analyses possible problems with the directive
"It's a complex piece of legislation which will mean a huge amount of bureaucracy for both employers and employees," says Susan Anderson, head of employee resourcing at the Confederation of British Industry.

"It's not something we particularly wanted, but there is room for employers to retain flexibility," she added.

"Companies will have to get individuals either to sign up to contracts, or workplace agreements or collective agreements in order to cover themselves."

Ruth Lea of the Institute of Directors, said: "The DTI has to get its act together because these regulations are not up to snuff. This will put employers off taking people on."

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said: "There will be massive costs as a result of additional holiday pay and different shift patterns."

Last week, a specialist magazine for the hotel and catering trade put the cost to that industry alone as more than £100m a year.

One thing is certain. The industrial tribunals, which everyone expects to happen, will be one of the few ways to help clarify the murky areas which beset the directive.

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