It has drawn my attention the new appeared on the online press today:

Following the UK Op-Out Clause, the European Commission, has decided to approve the extension of the 48-hour maximum working week to 60 hours. This proposal is mainly supported by the UK and Germany.

As you may well know, the threshold of the 48 hour maximum working week was established in the 1993 Working Time Directive (93/104/EC). The Directive was source of considerable division between the at that time State Members. In order to promote “health and safety” at work, the Directive stipulated such health provisions as:

  • Maximum weekly working time of 48 hours on average, including overtime
  • At least four weeks’ paid annual leave
  • A minimum rest period of 11 hours in each 24, and one day in each week
  • A rest break if the working day is longer than six hours
  • A maximum of eight hours’ night work, on average, in each 24.

The Directive also included the Article 18 –The Op-Out Clause-, mainly to satisfy the UK Government pressure.

This Op-Out Clause rules the labour conditions in the UK , allowing employers to extend the 48 working week under certain conditions, videlicet:

Workers must sign individual opt-out agreements, and must not suffer any penalty if they refuse to do so

Yet the reality is the Op-Out Clause has been widely abused in the UK.

As a volunteer advisor with the South Devon CAB, England, I did witness how foreign workers from South Africa and the Philippines were forced to work 24 hours shifts (8 a.m to 8 p.m.) in Nursing Homes in Plymouth. Without a proper resting – as sometimes they have to be on duty at night – these workers were in charge pof the administration of critical medicines to elderly people, as well as to perform other demanding physical jobs (hosting, changing of sanitary towels, etc) . The salary paid to workers in Nursing Homes is -luckily – £6 per hour.

But my experience was only the tip of the iceberg.

As the European Trade Union Confederation has warmed:

Research indicates that two-thirds of British workers are unaware of the 48-hour limit. In addition, two-thirds of long-hours workers say they have not signed an opt-out, and one-third of those who have, say they were given no choice.

People in the UK work the longest hours in the EU-15 Member States. Full-time workers put in some 44 hours a week on average, compared with around 40 in other countries of the EU-15. Some 4 million people work more than 48 hours a week.

Far from boosting British competitiveness, long-hours working leads to reduced productivity and poor management. The UK is only tenth in the EU-15 in terms of productivity per hour, and studies show that long hours create tired workers, producing lower, poorer quality output, and more mistakes. They are also a barrier to workers’ education and training, perpetuating an underskilled and underproductive workforce” ( ETUC Resolutions on Working Time Directive , 2005)

Perhaps you might think that it is no concern of yours, since you have a 36 maximum working hours contract, but nobody can remain impassible at the sight of the social injustices that are happening in front of us. If we simply look to other side, it may well end happening to us like the famous poem by Martin Niemöller

Als sie mich holten,

gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte”

( Where the most common British translation is:

When they came for me

there was no one left to speak out)