The economic squeeze has tipped the EU into a stalemate over the maximum allowable working week. Years of negotiations have collapsed. This opens up the prospect of new reform talks taking years more. In the meantime, Britain and 14 other countries are left to continue opting out of the 48-hour limit.
Each side in talks involving the European Parliament and the EU’s Czech presidency blamed the other. The Parliament wanted rigid curbs on the working week, phasing out exemptions. Governments wanted the flexibility to keep the exemptions for employees who agree to work longer. New proposals are not likely before a new European Commission is appointed later this year. Parliament member Alejandro Cercas said: “The new Commission and the new Parliament must begin negotiating this July. The Commission is obliged to bring in a new law proposal. I hope the new Commission will be more intelligent, more capable, and will have a bigger leadership, and will listen to Europeans’ opinions.” The Employment Commissioner said more states will probably exercise their right to opt out now. Trade unions said letting people work more than 48 hours per week would put pressure on them to do so and raise the risk of accidents.