The total hours allowed in a working week should not be decided by the EU
The French and the Europeans generally are stereotyped in Britain and the US as being much more fun loving and wishing to work shorter working weeks than ‘Anglo-Saxon economies’ such as Britain. However the European Union now has a big say over many areas of regulation that were previously the preserve of Westminster. The amount of time we work is one of them. The working time directive is one of them. It limits us to a working week of 48 hours, however we are perfectly at liberty to set our own national limits on working weeks that are less than 48 hours as several European countries have.
Coordinates across our competitors
It is better that it is the EU that decides a maximum working week than if it was our own government deciding. If our own government decided there would likely not be nearly so many complaints about it as being undemocratic or being dictated to by foreigners. However, if it was only implemented internally then we would not be as competitive compared to any of our European neighbours who may wish to work longer weeks. With the EU setting a maximum working week this applies across the whole of the EU and not just Britain so we all remain as competitive against each other.
This is assuming that at some point a British government would have implemented similar legislation, if this was the case then yes the coordination is useful and beneficial. However if we were to not implement any legislation limiting the amount of time people can work then we would potentially gain a competitive advantage over our European neighbours that might have helped us pull out of the recession faster.
Europe is already ahead
Many areas in Europe already have legislation that restricts their working week, often more than this new 48 hour restriction does. Europe have been the area taking the lead in these reductions so it makes sense that it is Europe that should be implementing them here as they already have the experience of doing it and what some of the challenges might be.
Just because Europe already has experience with the legislation, it does not mean that they should be able to impose it in a one size fits all approach on to countries that have different working cultures.
Good way to deflect criticism
Europe is always a good punching bag for any party to blame. The conservatives can decry the encroachment of Europe in to British domestic policy while labour can put their hands up and say Europe did it, we did not want it. This makes it a good issue for both parties to play to the right while actually doing nothing. Both Cameron with his softer agenda and labour would probably have at some point have come round to wanting to implement something similar either because it is the kind of thing that should be core labour policy and it would be something that the conservatives could use to show they are a ‘nice’ party. From Europe’s point of view they expect the British to be critical of almost everything that comes out of Europe and they get the benefit of making legislation and being noticed. Europe taking the flack therefore suits all sides.
Better work life balance
The whole point of the legislation is to give us a better work life balance. It does not matter whether this legislation comes from Europe or from Britain if it is for our benefit. We should encourage people to be putting their family first after 6pm each day, this would help create a happier workforce that in turn would be more productive in the time it does spend at work. Having more time with the family would also mean more time for participating in the community and community organisations.[[Tim Collard, The Working Time Directive - The one jewel in the EU’s plastic crown, telegraph.co.uk, 1/9/09 http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timcollard/100007914/the-working-time-directive-the-one-jewel-in-the-eus-plastic-crown/%5D%5D
While a better work life balance is obviously desirable the results may not be so good. If a reduction in our working hours means that Britain is less competitive and loses jobs then no matter how work life balance may have changed for the better it will not outweigh the much bigger loss for others who no longer have a job. Especially at a time of recession we need all the advantages we can get to be competitive in the global labour market.
One size fits all
The working time directive is a law that is hugely burdensome for business and the public sector. The main problem is that it is prescriptive and makes no distinction between different countries and their differing circumstances or even the different circumstances between sectors of the economy. What works for IT professionals might not work for doctors, bankers, or car makers.
The European Court of Justice interpreted the WTD to mean that any time doctors, care home workers or others spend "on call" – even when sleeping – should count as active working time. This obviously causes immense problems particularly to professions like doctors. The NHS for example uses a rota system for being on call. The change to a 48 hour week is already a reduction in hours for some junior doctors but if they were to include sleeping time while on call this would make a huge difference. The BMA estimated that in combination with the capping of working hours for junior doctors, the effect of this ruling was tantamount to losing between 4,300 and 9,900 doctors.[[Mats Persson, Time to reject Europe’s working week, The Guardian, 17/3/09 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/17/eu-work-and-careers%5D%5D
Lack of democracy
As with almost anything that comes out of the EU there is a democratic deficit in the setting up of the working time directive. Unlike in Britain the legislation is not come to in a fully democratic way. The council (the member states) or the commission (unelected) proposes, the commission then writes the legislation and finally the parliament gets a vote. This is not as democratic as bringing legislation through national parliaments and there is less chance for individual nations to scrutinise it to see how it will affect them.
This is no different to how things happen in Britain. Yes we elect our executive but we do not decide who our ministers are or our civil servants who write the legislation. The regions get very little influence over legislation in much the same way as individual states get little influence in Europe.
Laws should not be put into place that compels people to stop doing things that are perfectly legal and are usually encouraged. We should be free to work as much as we like, we are not harming others by working more, and instead people who work more are being beneficial to the economy. More than three-quarters of long hours workers say that they do so as a result of their own choice. And fewer than a third of employees sign an clause to opt out of such long hours at the same time as signing their employment contracts.[[http://www.eu-working-directive.co.uk/news/2006/stand-firm-on-working-time-directive.htm]]
In the current economic climate it is good that we have limits on our working week. It means that workers will not feel compelled to work long hours in order to keep their job. Instead it means more people working fewer hours so more people keep jobs, even if they no longer work for as long as time as they might have otherwise.
What do you think?