It has long been known that statistically Britons work the longest hours in Europe. Under the Working Time Directive employees can't work more than 48 hours a week, unless they agree to opt-out. The Directive, which was passed in 1998 was designed to protect employees from exploitation. At the time Britain was one of the few countries to adopt an opt-out clause.
The Directive is currently being reviewed due to a 2004 European Court of Justice ruling. The ruling said that the time some workers spent on duty should be regarded as "proper working time". This ruling had a direct implication for medical staff and those in emergency services. Three quarters of member states do not abide by the ruling.
This situation has prompted recent talks between member states, which have so far not been able to reach agreement. Britain is currently resisting any attempts to remove opting out from the Directive. Austria, who currently hold the presidency of the EU, is determined to break the stalemate, while being warned by trade unions not to bow to UK pressure.