Government proposes changes to working time Regulations

In July 1999, the UK government announced two proposed amendments to the Working Time Regulations 1998, intended to reduce the administration involved in implementing the Regulations. The proposals have been welcomed by employers' groups but criticised by trade unions.

On 7 July 1999, the trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers, initiated consultations with employer and trade union organisations on two proposed amendments to the Working Time Regulations 1998, which seek to implement the EU working time Directive (93/104/EC). The amendments - relating to the scope of the derogation for "unmeasured working time" and the record-keeping requirements for workers who have signed an "individual opt-out" from the 48-hour limit on average weekly working hours - are intended to "help employers come to terms with the Regulations". The government's move follows extensive complaints from employers' groups that the working time Regulations, which came into force in October 1998 (UK9810154F), have led to confusion and increased bureaucracy.

The government proposes extending the "unmeasured working time" derogation to include hours worked voluntarily by workers, typically managers and senior executives, who also have an element of their working time predetermined, for example by contract. If they voluntarily work additional hours over and above their contractual requirements, these would not count towards the working time limits.

The government also now believes that the requirement in the existing Regulations that employers must keep records of the hours worked by workers who have agreed to opt out of the 48-hour average weekly limit is unnecessary. It is proposed to replace the current provisions with a simple requirement to keep a list of all those who have signed an opt-out.

The trade and industry secretary sought responses to his proposals by 21 July 1999. He hoped to lay amending regulations before parliament before the summer recess and obtain parliamentary approval in the autumn. Mr Byers will also be consulting on revised and updated guidance to the working time legislation which he hopes will be more practical and "user-friendly".

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) welcomed the government's move, saying that the changes would bring "sighs of relief" from businesses across the country. However, the CBI added that different companies were having different problems with the Regulations and urged the government to "continue working with us to find ways of making the Directive even more workable".

John Monks, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said in a statement: "No change to the working time regulations should be rushed through without proper consultation. There must be no weakening of protection, otherwise the Government's commitment to making work family friendly will be undermined." Other union leaders strongly criticised the government's proposals. Roger Lyons, general secretary of the white-collar union, Manufacturing Science Finance (MSF), said that the changes would give "bad employers carte blanche to exploit their workers" and warned that the union might seek intervention by the European Commission.

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