Tweet I welcome the vote in the European Parliament to end the UK opt-out from the working time directive. This has been an anomaly for too long, and it is to the shame of Labour that they have not only not abolished the opt-out themselves, but actively opposed its abolition. Many of the arguments put forward by those who wish to retain the opt-out are specious at best.
Some employers' organisations try to present this as preventing workers from 'choosing' to work longer hours, but the reality is that the employees often have little choice. I am aware of some organisations, for instance, where it is a condition of employment that staff sign a 'voluntary' waiver of their rights before they are employed.
The representative of the IoD even argued that we need longer hours to get us out of the recession. I'm not convinced - employing fewer people for longer hours seems to me a much less effective way of doing that than employing more people for shorter hours – and the latter is more likely to build social inclusion and share wealth as well.
Others have argued that it goes against the differing 'employment cultures' in the different European states. That seems to be code for the fact that the UK has a culture of long hours, and employers wish to retain that. One has to ask why. I've worked in organisations with that type of culture – and it often means that people are afraid not to be in work before the boss, and afraid to be seen to be going home before him. Do they achieve any more? Not in my experience - there comes a point where 'presenteeism' becomes ineffective and adds nothing to overall output. There is a huge difference between increasing output and increasing productivity. Working longer can increase output; but increasing productivity has more to do with working smarter.
Most worrying of all, however, is surely the idea that the UK's 'competitiveness' somehow depends on people working longer hours than our European neighbours. Why? And what on earth does it say about our systems and processes if other European countries can deliver more effectively that we can in shorter hours?
For too long, the culture of long hours has been used as an excuse by some employers for their own failures to invest in equipment, processes, and training - and it is the employees who have paid the cost. A common playing field across Europe should be something we welcome, not fear.
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