UNICE responds to second-stage consultations on sectors excluded from working time Directive

On 17 September 1998, UNICE issued its response to the second stage of consultations by the European Commission on sectors and activities excluded from the 1993 working time Directive. The European employers' organisation continues to have reservations about adopting a differentiated approach for dealing with the issue. It also stresses that it would like to obtain more evidence of the gaps which the Commission perceives in national legislation and which it argues need to be remedied.

Since the initial adoption of the Council Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC) in 1993, the European Commission has emphasised its desire to review the situation in relation to the sectors and activities excluded from the Directive (such as transport or junior doctors etc). In July 1997, the Commission launched a White Paper on sectors and activities excluded from the working time Directive (EU9707138N)..

The White Paper set out four possible approaches to incorporating sectors and workers excluded from the Directive. Out of the four approaches, the Commission expressed a preference for the "differentiated approach" (option three), which was perceived to offer the greatest degree of operational flexibility. This approach would consist of making a distinction between the activities and sectors which may fall within the scope of the Directive and those which require specific sectoral measures. The aim was to encourage the social partners to draw up recommendations and agreements which could constitute the basis for, or take the place of, Commission proposals. The Commission envisaged the preparation of a framework proposal for the amendment of the working time Directive by the social partners at intersectoral level, as well as sectoral provisions based on solutions worked out by the relevant social partners for mobile and off-shore workers.

After initial responses from social partner organisations to the first phase of consultation on the White Paper, the Commission launched a second round of consultations on 31 March 1998 (EU9804102N).

On 17 September 1998, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) issued its response to the second consultation document, in which the Commission had again reaffirmed its preference for option three. In the document, UNICE reiterates its response to the White Paper, opposing option three for the following reasons:

  • the reasons which led to the exclusion of some sectors and activities from the scope of the Directive still apply;
  • it is not possible to tackle activities as diverse as, for example, road transport, trainee doctors and sea fishing in a single Directive; and
  • the distinction between mobile and non-mobile workers is not as clear-cut or as useful as the Commission seems to believe. The activities of non-mobile workers interact closely with those of mobile workers. In addition, in some companies, the same worker may be engaged alternately in mobile and non-mobile activities. Establishment of a distinction between the two types of activity would be prejudicial to this necessary flexibility of functioning and could be harmful to employment.

UNICE goes on to reiterate its support for a non-binding sectoral approach which takes full account of the employers in the sectors concerned. UNICE argues that there is no need to propose a generalised legislative approach, as national statutory and negotiated frameworks on working time provide workers with adequate protection.

In relation to the Commission's claim in the second consultation document that European legislation requires modification to plug the gaps in national legislation on working time, UNICE requests further evidence of such gaps.

The European employer organisation also voices strong reservations about the proposed definition of "sufficient rest". It considers this as being too vague and going beyond the scope of Article 118 of the EC Treaty, since it covers the protection of third parties, such as passengers or other users.

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