Allowing workers to work more than 48 hours a week, even voluntarily, is open to abuse by employers
The EU’s working time directive states that no one should work more than 48 hours a week. It is not however compulsory- employees are allowed to opt out. Does this defeat the object?
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What is the point in having a law if there is no way to enforce it? The EU clearly believes that workers need protecting, and has legislated extensively on this. The working time directive is another attempt to protect employees from by their employers. But allowing an opt out considerably lessens the authority of the act because no one is forced to abide by it. It sends the message that the act is tokenistic and not really serious, so it will have little actual effect.
Nobody can be forced to work more than 48 hours. The opt out has to be agreed in writing and can be canceled at any time. It is also illegal to sack or treat unfairly anybody who does not wish to opt out of the time limit, which therefore suggests that the directive is in fact enforceable.
Choosing to work long hours because of financial need is not a free choice. It is always irrational to choose to do something which could harm you, and working excessively long hours leads to exhaustion and illness. The EU has an obligation to protects its citizens from harm and a way to do this is to ensure that they do not find themselves forced into over-work.
If people are in need of money it is unfair to prevent them from earning this. The EU has an obligation to protect its citizens from harm, which includes poverty, and if people are denied the extra income that they are dependent on as a result of working more than 48 hours then the EU will have failed in this obligation.
Someone will always opt out
Money is a powerful motivator, and people will always be willing to work long hours because they need it. If we allow people to opt out, some people always will. This means that employees are confident to ask potential workers to opt out because they know that some people will and that those who won’t are easily replaced. Employees who do not want to work long hours are therefore disadvantaged by this act, as it provides an easy way to distinguish potential “good, hardworking” employees from those who will want to work fewer hours.
If the 48 hours becomes mandatory without the opt out, then workers will just take second jobs which are exempt from the directive to supplement their income. People are able to do this by setting up their own companies, domestic servants in private houses are also exempt, therefore individuals could take up extra cleaning jobs etc to supplement their income. Two jobs will inevitably lead to more stress than one job, therefore the opt out should remain for people who need to work more than the 48 hours.
Some jobs are exempt from the directive
Some jobs are exempt from the directive, in theory making employees more open to exploitation by their employers. A list of the areas of employment not covered by the directive are as follows;
* jobs where you can choose freely how long you will work (e.g. a managing executive)
* the armed forces, emergency services and police are excluded in some circumstances
* domestic servants in private houses
* sea transport workers
* mobile workers in inland waterways and lake transport
* workers on board sea going fishing vessels [[Working time limits (the 48 hour week) Direct Gov- Employment, http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/WorkingHoursAndTimeOff/DG_10029426%5D%5D
This means that people working in these areas could potentially be forced to work a longer week under the threat of dismissal etc.
Abuse by employers
If employees are allowed to opt out of the directive, then it isn’t going to stop employees from working more than 48 hours a week, which is the point of the directive. This also could lead on to employers asking employees to work more than 48 hours a week, and persuading them to do so by either hinting at losing their job if they don’t, or a variety of other reasons, such as increased pay.
This could therefore lead onto a lot of abuse of this by employers, getting more workers to work more hours per week, which defeats the object of the directive; to reduce the number of hours worked by employees per week.
Right to work
Particularly in difficult financial times, people need to work. Those on low paying jobs with dependents are often financial stretched and overtime is a good way for them to make up the shortfall. Also, overtime is often paid at a higher rate. By limiting the amount of hours people can work you are limiting the amount of money they can make. People are not stupid- they will not work themselves into an early grave. But if they judge that working long hours is in their best interests then they should be allowed to choose to do so.
People do indeed need the work in these difficult times, but allowing some people to work longer than 48 hours is actually depriving others of jobs. When jobs are scarce like this why should we allow employers to eke out their employers' national insurance contributions by only hiring one person when the hours really should be split between two?
Companies do not exploit their employees for the fun of it. There is only so much work that needs doing, and therefore only so many man hours required. Companies however have realised that it is in their best interest to have known, trained employees doing the work. If the number of hours each employee can work is limited then companies will not be able to maximally utilize their best employees. If someone is willing to work long hours, and the company wants them to, then we are not hurting anyone by allowing them to.
This reliance on existing employees doing more work could be just a cost cutting exercise. Employers could be pushing existing labour to the limits at the expense of creating new jobs. This is an especially pertinent issue in the current economic climate.
Message of the law
When the state makes a law it sends a message. It says that the state approves or disapproves of a certain action. People do not just obey laws because of the potential consequences of disobeying them, they obey them because it is a social expectation that they do so. Something like the working time directive, although not enforceable, sets up the social expectation that people should not be forced into working very long hours. And because people have to sign a form and consciously opt out, it makes them think about this expectation and give considered consent to work very long hours. The opt out provides an ideal compromise between protecting employees and respecting their freedom of choice. It informs them of their rights and offers them protection from exploitation without forcing them to take it.
What do you think?