20th November 2008


  Issue No.  2008/22



 The 48 hour opt-out agreement – what now?

Since 1993 the UK has given employees the right to sign an ‘Opt-Out’ agreement which allows them to work beyond the maximum average weekly working time limit of 48 hours per week. 
There has been intense pressure for many years to seek to make the UK give up this ability to work longer hours and in June it was believed a deal had been done to ensure that the Opt-Out could continue.  Despite this, on November 5th the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted by 35 to 13 to scrap the Opt-Out.
What does this mean for your business?
In the immediate future probably nothing – the European Parliament meet in mid-December to consider the matter further and the signs are that unless UK MEP’s all vote to defeat this amendment (and even then there may be too few votes to affect the decision) it is likely that it will be passed.  If it is ratified, the proposal is for the UK to scrap the Opt-Out in three years time.
And if the opt-out goes, what then?
If the opt-out does go then many employers will face some tough decisions and employment costs are sure to rise.  Employees who want or need to work for more than 48 hours each week will be tempted into taking more than one job.  Whilst this happens now the prevalence is sure to rise.  Will employers easily be able to keep track? Will employees volunteer this information?  How will employers recruit to fill the gaps when we currently face skill shortages in key areas?  Will these and the many other practical implications be of any interest to Brussels?  
Business leaders in the UK are clearly unhappy about this prospect and the Government have pledged to fight to keep the opt-out.
To conclude on a practical note, if you wish your employees to continue to have the opt-out freedom (the ability to choose to work more than an average of 48 hours per week if they want to) then you should consider lobbying your MP/MEP.





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