Government consults on extension to Working Time Regulations

On 31 October 2002, the UK government initiated a three-month consultation exercise on draft Regulations to extend the provisions of the Working Time Regulations to workers in sectors currently excluded from the legislation, as required by EU law.

Directive 2000/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, adopted in 22 June 2000 (EU0005249F), extended Council Directive (93/104/EC) concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time to cover road, rail, air, sea, and inland waterways transport, seafishing, offshore work and the activities of junior doctors - sectors and activities excluded from the earlier Directive. EU Member States must implement the 2000 Directive by 1 August 2003.

On 31 October 2002, the Department of Trade and Industry (GTI) launched a public consultation exercise on draft Regulations to implement the 2000 Directive by extending the provisions of the UK’s Working Time Regulations 1998 to around 770,000 workers in previously excluded sectors. The consultation will run for three months with responses required by 31 January 2003.

DTI minister Alan Johnson said: 'We want to extend protection to more workers but also want to ensure their employers can cope with the changes. This consultation is not about whether we extend this protection but exactly how we do it.'

The proposed Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2003 will give all non-mobile workers in the road, sea and sea fishing sectors the right to an average 48-hour working week, four weeks’ paid annual leave, 11 hours’ rest between working days, one day’s rest per week, and statutory in-work rest break, as well as imposing limits on night work, requiring employers to offer free health assessments to night workers and providing special protections for young workers. These regulations will extend to doctors in training from 1 August 2004 with the exception of the weekly working time limits, which will be phased in over a further transitional period.

These provisions will also apply to all workers in the rail and offshore sectors and to all workers in aviation not covered by the sector-specific Aviation Directive.

In road transport, mobile workers who will be covered by the recently adopted Directive 2002/15/EC on working time in road transport (EU0204208F) will be entitled to four weeks’ paid annual leave, and health assessments if a night worker (as neither of these provisions form part of the latter Directive). Mobile workers not covered by the road transport Directive will be entitled to an average 48-hour working week, four weeks’ paid annual leave, health assessments if a night worker and provision for adequate rest.

The DTI estimates that approximately 120,000 workers will benefit from the minimum daily and weekly rest period entitlements; 20,000 from the working time limits for night workers; 50,000 from the paid annual leave entitlements; 160,000 from the weekly working time limits and 210,000 from the requirements for employers to offer health assessments to night workers. The overall cost is estimated at around GBP 170 million per annum

Reacting to the announcement of the consultation exercise, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) described the working time Directive as 'one of the worst pieces of EU employment legislation on the statute book'. Susan Anderson, the CBI director of human resources policy, commented: 'The best we can hope for is that the government makes the best of a bad job ... The government has to do this under EU rules but that does not make it any less worrying for firms right across the economy. Restricting hours will lead to a huge increase in costs for transport firms, which already have a shortage of drivers. These costs will get passed on, damaging any firm that needs transport services, from recession-hit manufacturers to supermarket chains and corner shops.'

The Trades Union Congress is continuing to campaign for the 'full implementation' of the working time Directive, including an end to the provision allowing individuals to 'opt-out' of the 48-hour limit on average weekly working hours, and ensuring that voluntary unpaid overtime counts towards the 48-hour limit (UK0202102F and UK0205102N).

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