Deadline for working time negotiations extended

In August 2012, the European Commission announced that the deadline for the EU-level cross-sector negotiations on the revision of the Working Time Directive would be extended to 31 December 2012, given that progress was being made in the negotiations. Social partners are focusing on reaching an agreement on issues surrounding maximum working times and on-call working. It is thought that an end to the long search for agreement on revision of the directive may be close.

Background

Negotiations between the EU-level cross-sector social partners on the revision of the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) began on 14 November 2011 (EU1111051I).

Representatives on behalf of the employers have come from BusinessEurope, the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and the European Centre for Employers and Enterprises Providing Public Services (CEEP). Trade unions are represented by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

Under the terms of Article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (450Kb PDF), the social partners had nine months in which to reach agreement, although this period could be extended if the employers’ representatives, the workers’ representatives and the Commission jointly decided to do so.

Focus of the talks

The talks were focused on issues such as the opt-out from the maximum weekly working time limit of 48 hours under the directive, on-call working, and the interpretation of European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgments concerning working time.

In August 2012, the European Commission announced that it had agreed to a joint proposal from the social partners to extend the negotiating period to 31 December 2012 in order to give the social partners more time to reach an agreement. László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, noted that the Commission was happy to extend the deadline, given that the talks were making progress. He said:

The social partners have my best wishes for a successful outcome to their talks on these very important issues. The Commission is willing to provide any support the social partners would find helpful in the context of these negotiations.

If the social partners reach an agreement, under Article 155 of the TFEU they may ask for its implementation as a directive. The Commission would then present the agreement to the Council of the European Union in the form of a directive and inform the European Parliament. Under the Treaty, the Council may by a qualified majority either adopt the agreement as a directive or reject it, but may not amend it.

If the social partners do not reach an agreement, the Commission would then issue a legislative proposal to amend the directive, based on its previous consultation and impact assessment work.

Commentary

It would seem that there is a real chance of agreement between the social partners on revision of the working time directive. This would be a major step forward, given the well-documented differences in the views of the EU-level social partners on this issue.

No public details have emerged from the negotiations so far, but it is to be expected that BusinessEurope will want to focus on ensuring that on-call work is not considered as working time, that the opt-out from maximum working time is preserved, and that the ECJ judgments on the interpretation of the directive are interpreted narrowly.

UEAPME will be focusing on avoiding further complexity to the directive, and resolving the legal uncertainty surrounding the ECJ’s judgments, with particular emphasis on avoiding placing unnecessary burdens on small businesses.

From a public service point of view, CEEP will be focusing on issues such as on-call working and maximum working time. It wants to ensure that public service employers will still be able meet the essential needs of the public. The agreement needs to ensure they can deliver emergency services and carry out other essential work around the clock.

From the trade unions’ point of view, ETUC will be focusing on ending or phasing out the opt-out from the maximum 48-hour week, keeping reference periods for calculating average working time, and complying with ECJ judgments on on-call working time.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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