Talks are on the brink of collapse over whether to impose a strict limit on the length of the working week in Europe, or to allow people to work longer if they want to. The European Parliament wants the former, many EU governments want the latter.
The negotiators have one more meeting to clinch a compromise before the end of the parliament’s term in May. The current Czech EU presidency says better conditions for employees need to be ensured, but so does labour market flexibility. If no middle ground is reached, legislation more than four years in the making will be scrapped. During further rounds of negotiations, exemptions to the EU’s 48-hour limit on the working week would remain in application in Britain and 14 other EU countries. Even where people want to work longer, trade unions say it still raises accident risks. Another pressing need for a compromise is that hospitals in several countries are being sued by their own doctors. That is because they have not complied with EU court rulings that say on-call hours count as working time.