Ministers often say that the Working Time Dircetive is too inflexible. Before this debate gets red-hot again, let’s just pause to consider what happens when the country gets freezing cold.
When there is significant snow disruption, which is pretty much every year in Scotland and the North of England, the government temporarily suspends the working time rules for some delivery drivers – so that fuel, oil and sometimes even groceries can get to the snow-bound parts of the UK.
The rules for drivers are about health as well as safety. Regularly working long hours increases the risk of developing heart disease and this threat is compounded in sedentary, stressful occupations like driving – so the rules are there for a good reason.
However, the rules are far from being too restrictive as the government contends. In fact, the directive simply allows for complete suspension in real emergencies like heavy snow falls. These temporary suspensions are needed to prevent hardship in the stricken parts of the country and generally have the backing of the road transport unions.
The latest temporary suspension – just for “drivers involved in the distribution of kerosene or gas oil to domestic, agricultural and industrial premises within Great Britain” – has lasted for a week, and will end at 11.59 tonight (Source: Department for Transport).
Let’s hope that we don’t get any more heavy snow this year, but if we do our problems will certainly not be compounded by the Working Time Directive – despite its illusory “bogey-man” status in government thinking.