From the TUC

Working Time Directive – can we manage without long hours?

21 Nov 2008, by in Working Life

On 17 December there will be a key vote in the European Parliament on the future of the opt-outs from the 48 hour week. I’ve just heard that the ETUC has called a demonstration at the Parliament in Strasbourg on the eve of this vote (16 Dec), starting at 1.30.

Thus its time to check that the UK could manage OK if the opt-outs ended. Here are some key facts:

  • Ireland phased in the 48 hour week – this was followed by an economic boom – no problems there;
  • long hours are associated with low productivity though fatigue and loss of concentration;
  • ….and with poor work organisation and lack of investment in machinery, technology and training;
  • long hours are associated with health problems, sickness absence and accidents; and
  • long hours simply squeeze out the possibility of lifelong learning.

surely we could move away from the long hours culture without too much trouble if the opt-outs were phased out. This would not take effect until at least 2012 – economy booming again by then, i hope.

Evidence based policy

‘There was no sign that the extent of sustained long hours working was systematically associated with the business and financial needs of workplaces … workplaces have organisational choice and are able to reduce the need for sustained long hours should they choose to do so’ [i]

‘With the WTD only aiming to limit the working week to an average of 48 hours, it would seem to us that there is plenty of scope for particularly long hours to be reduced without encountering the problems that these economies are facing. Consequently we are not convinced of the necessity of maintaining the opt-out’ [ii]


[i] ‘The Business Context of Long Hours Working’, T. Hogarth, W.W.Daniel, A.P. Dickerson, D.Campbell, M. Winterbotham, D. Vivian, University of Warwick Institute for Employment Research, DTI Employment Relations Series 23, November 2003, p9.

[ii] House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee Report #7, ‘Labour Market Flexibility and Employment Regulation’, March 2005, paras 64/63. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmtrdind/90/9002.htm