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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Europeans 'back long work hours'
Man staring at computer screen
Most employees are keen to get their work-life balance spot on
A majority of people in Europe's biggest economies do not want limits on working hours, a poll by the Financial Times newspaper has indicated.

According to the survey, 52% of adults questioned in the UK said people should have the right to opt out of European Union rules that limit working times.

The survey found that a majority of those in France and Germany also did not want working hours capped.

The poll, which also covered Italy and Spain, found 47% backed limiting hours.

'How the question in asked'

The survey questioned 10,000 people over the age of 16 in the five countries.

People do want protection against excess working hours that damage their health and relationships
Brendan Barber, TUC

In the poll, the Spanish were the least happy with working more hours, with 72% of those questioned backing state controls and limits.

At present, the European Union has legislation that limits maximum working hours for an employee to 48 a week.

The UK has more flexible legislation that allows employers and workers to opt out and work for longer.

"Attitudes to working-time protection crucially depend on how the question is asked," Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, was quoted as saying by the Financial Times.

"People do want protection against excess working hours that damage their health and relationships, even when poor pay forces them to notch up maximum overtime to provide a decent living standard," Mr Barber said.

Shake up

The question of working hours and worker protection has become an important issue as some of Europe's biggest economies wrestle with the problem of reviving and reforming their labour markets.

Unlike the UK, which has already made some difficult choices regarding the flexibility of the workforce, France and Germany are having to look at ways of making it easier for companies to hire and fire, while cutting employment costs.

One area that has come into focus is the retirement age, with the UK unveiling plans to raise it from the current level of 65.

According to the newspaper's poll, almost three-quarters of those questioned in the UK said that they would be willing to consider working past the current retirement age.

That compares with 67% of Italians, 56% of Germans and 41% of French workers.

The poll also found that Italians were the least likely to use up all of their allotted holiday allowance.

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