Working time – Q2 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

Long hours cited as main reason for dissatisfaction

According to the Flash Eurobarometer 398 (5.48 MB PDF), commissioned by the European Commission and carried out in April 2014, about 80% of workers in the EU (including the self-employed) are satisfied with their working hours. In 12 countries – Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Romania, Italy, Spain and Greece – more than 20% of the workers surveyed expressed their dissatisfaction with working hours. In Greece, 38% say they are unhappy with their hours; in contrast, only 8% of respondents in Denmark are not satisfied with their working hours. Almost half of respondents not satisfied with their working hours (48%) termed them as ‘excessive’. Other reasons cited were problems caused by shift work or other irregular forms of working time, and the inability to influence the work schedule (cited by 28% of all respondents).

Austria to comply with EU Working Time Directive for hospital doctors

Austria’s Federal Hospitals Act (KHG) specifies a maximum working week of 72 hours for hospital doctors. This far exceeds the EU’s reference value of 48 hours a week (EU Working Time Directive). The European Commission has warned Austria of potential disciplinary proceedings if it does not make changes.

Austria’s Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection has presented details of a draft bill which is due to be negotiated with the hospitals and the regional authorities. The hospitals fear the setting of a maximum working week of 48 hours will lead to large increases in personnel costs and problems with a shortage of doctors. The draft bill sets out a maximum working week, on average, of 60 hours at least until 2018. This will be reduced to 55 hours a week by 2021 through works agreements. The target of a maximum 48-hour week will be reached in 2022. The period of reference for the calculation of average weekly working hours (Durchrechnungszeitraum) is also to be extended from six months to one year.

The step-by-step implementation of the EU’s requirements has, in general, been welcomed by the negotiating partners. However, the Austrian Medical Chamber has stated it would like to see the 48-hour maximum working week introduced by 2018 or 2019.

Hungarian workers unable to take all their annual leave

In a survey carried out by recruitment firm Profession.hu (in Hungarian), a large number of Hungarian workers say they are not able to devote enough time to rest and relaxation. One third of those surveyed (around 4,000) said they were often unable to take all their annual leave. On average, 36% of holiday time remained unused in Hungary at the end of each year, according to the survey. Figures showed that 8% of workers reported taking just a few days off, and some took no holidays at all. This was most likely to be the case among top managers and entrepreneurs. Half of the surveyed workers said they had been on leave ‘only on paper’ or that they had not been allowed to take holidays on their chosen days. Half of those not able to use their available leave gave ‘excessive workload’ as the main reason.

Tripartite negotiations over working time regulations

Croatia: New labour law

In 2014, the Croatian Government opened negotiations with the social partners over a new labour law. The new law is likely to include, among other things, changes to how working time is regulated; employers are supporting the government’s push towards greater liberalisation of working time.

The proposal retains the existing law that specifies a maximum working week of 40 hours, plus eight hours of overtime; however, it goes on to establish a six-month period during which the weekly maximum cannot exceed 56 hours. The proposal also provides for working time to be set by collective agreements and employment protocols based on the specific needs of certain industries and professions. In the healthcare sector, for example, this would mean that different working time rules may be set if the employee agrees to them in writing.

Trade unions have voiced their opposition to the proposed changes, and it was eventually agreed that the draft law should lower the weekly maximum from 56 to 50 hours per week.

Austria: Negotiations on reform package

In spring 2014, further negotiations on working time regulation in Austria kicked off between the two coalition partners and the social partners. Talks involved discussions about a broader reform package, including:

  • extension of the working day from 10 to 12 hours under certain conditions;

  • improvements in so-called ‘all-in’ employment contracts;

  • introduction of a sixth week of holiday for employees;

  • increased flexibility of working time.

Flexible working time open to all employees in the UK

In a major legislative change in the UK, the right to request flexible working has been extended to all employees. Introduced by law on 30 June 2014, the change means that the right to request flexible working is no longer confined only to those with childcare or other caring commitments. All employees now have the right to ask their employer for flexible employment and working conditions to deal, for example, with particular events in their lives. 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) welcomed the extension of the provision to all employees but said more needed to be done to ensure requests were considered in a reasonable manner. The TUC recommended that people should be given the right to challenge an employer’s reason for rejecting a request, warning that otherwise many employees risked losing out.

Retail sector and opening hours

Norway: Shops may be allowed to open on public holidays

The Norwegian government has indicated that it is likely to change the present regulations on weekend work by allowing shops, in general, to open on Sundays. Current regulations in Norway are viewed as being quite restrictive but large retail chains are divided on whether they welcome the change or not. This development should be seen in the more general context of proposals for changes to the Working Environment Act, the general regulation of working time arrangements in Norway. Changes include, for example, more flexible working time arrangements through the extensive use of ‘annualisation of working hours’ schemes. It is likely that a proposal for new legislation will be presented later in 2014.

Czech Republic: New rules to limit opening hours

Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, new rules have been introduced to limit shop opening hours on public holidays (until recently, these had not been regulated by law). On 26 June 2014, the Senate approved a bill limiting the opening hours of large shops on public holidays. The bill specifes that shops with a sales area of 200 square metres and over should remain closed on public holidays; on Christmas Eve, stores must close by midday. Restrictions do not apply to stores with sales areas under 200 square metres, or to petrol stations, pharmacies, retail outlets at airports, railway and bus stations, or shops in healthcare facilities. The bill will be now assessed by the government and discussed in parliament.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of national correspondents. Further resources on working time can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and the European Company Survey (ECS).

For more information, contact Jorge Cabrita: jca@eurofound.europa.eu

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