The Working Time Directive has often been a bone of contention among Member States, in particular Britain's specially negotiated opt-out, which enables employees to agree to work more than 48 hours a week. Germany, Poland and the Baltic states support Britain in its bid to retain the opt-out, however Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and France all disagree. France has particularly singled Britain out for criticism because of her concerns about unfair competition on workers rights across Europe.
The Finnish Presidency had hoped to break the deadlock on the opt-out in a meeting on 7 November 2006. Finland suggested that countries could either choose to keep the opt-out or have more flexibility in calculating the maximum number of hours working. However an agreement could not be brokered. Finland is the fifth presidency in a row to try to tackle the stalemate, and it is expected that Germany, the next president of the EU, will not attempt to find a solution.
The continuing stalemate has blocked changes to other areas regulated by the Directive, in particular the question of whether inactive on-call time should be counted as working time. Many Member States are concerned about this as it could have serious ramifications for health professionals such as junior doctors on call and emergency services.
Meanwhile a European Court of Justice ruling on the Working Time Directive has meant a change for the Department of Trade and Industry's official guidance on the matter. The ruling means that employers must now ensure that their workers take rest breaks, or they will be breaking the law. However employers should not "force" their employees to take breaks.
To read more about the European Court of Justice ruling please see our Employment Bulletin.