back to article UK will save its 48-hour opt-out, says employment lawyer

The European Parliament has voted to end the UK's opt-out of laws banning people from working for more than 48 hours a week, but a leading employment lawyer has said that the opt-out is likely to remain in place. "My message to businesses is: don't panic," said Tom Flanagan, an employment law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law …


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  1. Florence

    You cannot be contracted to work > 48hrs != you cannot work > 48hrs

    Just thought I'd point this out since a lot of people in this country seem to be struggling with this concept.

    If the UK loses its opt-out, and you want to stay in the office till 9pm to finish your project even though you're not being paid overtime but because you HAVE TO finish it, or because you have no life, you still can, don't worry.

    Meanwhile, I'll still be out of the office by 5pm.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    how long until ...

    ... a Union leader announces they will "work night and day" to get this opt-out removed :-)

  3. Anonymous Coward

    "The European Parliament has voted to end the UK's opt-out of laws"...

    And that it why I do not want to be governed from Europe.

    48 hours is a long time to be in work. I know I would burn out if had to work that every week. Its OK for the 1 or 2 times that you need to hit a deadline but anything routine would be excessive and dangerous to your health.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    37.5 UK week vs 40 hour EU week

    A few points:

    UK standard week is 37.5 hours, EU standard week is 40 hours. As to whether people can productively work more than 48 hours a week for 17 weeks, well, I'd say that's individual judgement. i.e. my judgement not the companies. So I like that the company can't force me to work longer than 48 hours a week averaged over 17 weeks.

    IMHO, Britain should not have an opt out. I'm sick of how the EU adopts UK's paranoid anti citizen policies simply because they want to keep the Brits on board. I want to see all that mass surveillance, guilty until proven innocent, no rights, biometric clap trap, treat'em like crap, ... all of that spreads across Europe, because UK has an opt out and political bargains are struck to get UK in on policies.

    If UK wants an opt out they should leave the EU. Just go already, nobody wants you in EU, you're a frigging nightmare.

    If sterling collapses* and Euro zone has to bail UK out, it should have strings attached. The loss of the British opt out. You want the opt out? Then no bailout!

    * Watch what Brown's doing with the Banking Bill, it's the same 'print money, hide the money supply number' that Bush started in 2006 when M3 shot up.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Another 48 Hours?

    I refused to sign the opt out at my work - along with most of the more savvy peeps here. But it doesn't mean I don't sometimes work way more than 48 hours if there are deadlines to meet - it's just that I cannot be forced to.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "My message to businesses is: don't panic,"

    Mm-hm. That's right. Don't panic, UK businesses - you haven't yet lost the right to work your people like god-damned pit-ponies while tacitly threatening them with the sack if they dare to demonstrate any sort of work:life balance at all.

  7. Alex Rose

    @Anonymous Coward - And that it why I do not want to be governed from Europe.

    The European Parliament wants to END the UK's opt out, i.e. they do NOT want people working more than 48 hours.

    Reading comprehension is your friend!

  8. sazoo

    48hrs per week AVERAGE over 17 weeks, Maximum (not min!)


    And that it why I do not want to be governed from Europe.

    48 hours is a long time to be in work.


    And someone got the wrong end of the stick. the EU wants us to GO HOME, the UK is fighting for the right to keep us in the office!!

    It works like this. comparisons are made on any 17 week period. If a typical person is contracted 8hrs per day, 5 days per week. then working 48 hours per week is the equivalent of working Saturday. Even following the EU rules, you can still be required to work every Saturday for 17 weeks without breaking it!

    I've been presented with the "opt out" waiver-my-rights form at most of the companies I've worked for, and I have *never signed it*. On pointing out that by asking me to sign it they are saying I'm likely to need to work MORE than every Saturday for over 4 months in a row and suggesting that this would be a sign of management not doing their job properly rather than me, the managers all do a double take and say, "Oh yeah, never thought of it like that, most people just sign it anyway". Then go away quite happy. Even in crazy months of regular late nights and weekends the 17 week average is just fine! as long as crazy is interjected with normal for a couple weeks!

  9. Jimmy Floyd

    @AC 11:45

    Like many Europhobes, you're ill-informed and hold contradictory views:

    You don't want to be governed by Europe: fair enough.

    48 hours is a long time to be in work: I quite agree.

    Except that it's the European Parliament who concur with you that 48 hours per week is quite enough. Our nutty government is quite happy for you to burn out. I'd rather trust an MEP to run our country than Gordon Brown and Wacky Jacqui Smith, that's for sure! At least we've voted for our MEPs. Not so the PM.

    While we're about it, let's remember that the British Isles have been a part of Europe for millions of years, and the EEC / EU for decades. We can't be governed *from* Europe - we *are* Europe. The idea that the UK is not a part of its own continent or political union never ceases to perplex me - as if we're somehow different (oh, the arrogance).

  10. Richard

    @ AC "The European Parliament has voted ...

    Given the 17 week measurement period and the fact that businesses do have the right to determine your holidays, the CBI is actually objecting to not being allowed to force workers to do an average of about 51 hours per week ALL YEAR. That sounds like routine to me.

    So you don't want to be governed by Europe because you agree with their reasons for voting against the opt out. That is why /I/ think democracy is overrated.

  11. Wize

    Many staff don't want to opt out but are forced to

    I think scrapping the opt out is a good idea to prevent any browbeating in to signing forms.

  12. jai


    every company i've worked at, the opt-out was compulsory, there was no option. if you didn't opt-out, they wouldn't employ you

    i guess financial institutions are a bit paranoid that there might be a massive crisis affecting the bank and suddenly everyone involved puts their coats on and goes home

  13. chris
    Thumb Up

    Now, to get people only working the hours they're paid for....

    When you get the CBI, a right-wing anti-Europe think tank and a Labour-friendly think tank all condemn a decision, you KNOW it's the right thing to do.

    I don't see any of them working >48 hours for more than 17 weeks in a row. They've just got a knee-jerk dislike of being made to check that they aren't killing their workers with overwork. No wonder UK productivity is so low, we spend so long in the office that we learn that what we do in the office is either skive or panic and do unpaid overtime.

    And the "choice" rhetoric makes me boak. It never feels like a choice when you're presented with the "opt-out" to sign along with your new contract of employment, does it?

  14. Graham Marsden

    The UK Government...

    ... is keen to retain the opt-out, believing that it suits the UK's work culture, which generally involves longer hours than that in other EU member states.

    Y'know, I would have thought this Government would have been in favour of stopping people working longer hours because that way the employers would be forced to take on more workers to get the same amount of work done and thus make the unemployment figures look better!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sometimes you just need someone on site

    It might not matter what they do most of the time - read a book, watch telly or whatever - as long as they are there when you need them. A minimum wage and limited working hours drive up the cost to the point where you have to find something for them to do - to the detriment of both parties.

  16. ElFatbob

    'Governed By Europe'

    This is the bit i don't get.

    The elected MEP's vote on things that we seem to think we can negociate our way out of yet the unelected EU Commission issues dictats and we have to comply...

    Can someone explain this to me...

  17. Ian

    Lucky us!

    ""It would become unlawful to put a clause into a contract which makes a person opt out of this," he said. "But if someone wanted to work longer, they could. They just couldn't be required to.""

    And there's the crux of the problem right there, it's not currently really an opt-out because many employers put it in your contract, so you either accept the job and sign the contract, simultaneously accepting the opt-out or you don't take the job. But if you're happy in your job you're still not safe, because you see employers have in many places been changing people's contracts to slip it in and you can either accept the new contract or be made redundant.

    I don't have a problem with the opt-out, I have a problem with it's current implementation and the above quote is worrying- the fact he's suggesting that a supposed opt-out can be tied to your contract being removed is a bad thing? Surely his last sentence there, which describes the current situation- that you can be required to even though it's supposedly optional is evidence enough that it's currently not really an opt-out and hence not really optional if you value your job?

    "Flanagan also said that the working week is measured over such a long period that very few jobs would actually currently count as lasting longer than 48 hours in a week."

    Speak for yourself mate, some of us haven't had much choice at our jobs. Luckily my current employer is much better and doesn't expect overtime unless it's really really needed, which has yet to happen to me.

    ""The measurement is over a 17-week period. People are talking as if this affects many people, but there are not that many jobs where you do those hours over such a long period," he said."

    Really? That's funny coming from a law firm that deals with IT issues because IT is one of the places you'll find plenty of people stuck in this scenario. But then, maybe they don't deal with the guys actually doing the work and just handle big business legal stuff.

    Once again it's the EU that we're having to depend on to protect us from our own government just as we did with the DNA database, just as we have with many other issues relating to personal freedoms, safety and health. God only knows why our nation has so many Europhobes when they simultaneously agree with Europe. I too used to be a Europhobe but in recent years I've come to the realisation that the EU actually does a better job of governing us than our own government does- you only have to look at the strengthening euro vs. the weakening pound to see this extends even into the economy. So here's the deal Europhobes, you have two choices- either stop voting in the same idiots (Labour and Conservatives) and then whine about their incompetence or stop whining about the EU when it's doing a better job of running the country than the very people you elected. Compared to British parliament over the last few years, the EU is a dream.

  18. Geoff

    Forced to opt out?

    Opting out of the 48 hour week

    If you are 18 or over and wish to work more than 48 hours a week, you can choose to opt out of the 48 hour limit. This must be voluntary and in writing. It can't be an agreement with the whole workforce and you shouldn't be sacked or subjected to a detriment (for example, refused promotion or overtime) for refusing to sign an opt-out.

    If you sign an opt-out, you have the right to cancel this agreement at any time by giving between one week and three months' notice. You can agree this notice period with your employer when you sign the opt-out. You can cancel an opt-out even if it's part of a contract you've signed.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Construction industry


    I work in construction where the average building sector hours are 7:30 - 17:30 and and in civils where the hours are 7:00-19:00. If this law did go through I have no idea how the industry would react. +15% price and time to the delivery of all contracts?

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Why are UK workers so inefficient?

    We have the longest hours in Europe, yet we struggle to compete (and most IT projects are over-budget, late and crap when they do arrive). Why?

    Is it, perhaps, because UK workers are slap-dash and unprofessional? Perhaps if we planned and worked to a higher standard we could get the same effective work done in less time. There is a culture in the Uk of being seen to work, rather than getting something actually done.

    You can compare any sector you like, and the Britisgh workers will get bitch-slapped by their European cousins (esp. the Germans and Poles). The arrive on time, do the job efficiently and are gone. They do not spend their time standing about bitching about the need for a tea-break or surfing IT news sites.

    The UK needs this opt-out because her workforce is sub-standard on the world stage.

  21. Bug

    Only 48

    Would love to have worked only 48 hours a week. All my previous jobs have been 60-70 hours a week every week and no options. Combined with naff hourly wage it's been the only way to make a living.

  22. steogede


    >> "This vote is misguided. Trying to ban people from choosing to work more than 48 hours a

    >> week is a mistake, and would replace opportunity with obstruction," said CBI deputy director

    >> general John Cridland.

    Perhaps if the CBI had been so opposed to the minimum wage, people wouldn't need the 'opportunity' to work more than 48 hours. The CBI complained about the last increase in the minimum wage because it had increased by 27%, which was much more than the average wage increases in the same period (probably 12%). Completely ignoring the fact the minumum wage bears no relatiion to the average wage - unless someone on minumum wage works 108 hours a week. If the CBI had the power, they would reintroduce slavery.

    Re: sometimes you just need someone on site

    >> It might not matter what they do most of the time - read a book, watch telly or whatever - as

    >> long as they are there when you need them. A minimum wage and limited working hours

    >> drive up the cost to the point where you have to find something for them to do - to the

    >> detriment of both parties. (AC 13.11)

    Provide them with somewhere peaceful to sleep and a bed, specify hours in their contract when they can sleep, then you won't you only need to pay them minimum wage except when you need them awake. Until the goverment updates the law, anyway.

  23. John Murgatroyd

    Working Time

    The 17 week period can be [by agreement] a 52 week period.

    If you then take the holiday periods [about 28 days per year minimum] you then average the hours worked in the 52 week period....and come out with around 52 hours per week that you can work and still not sign the opt-out.

    If presented with the opt out at contract-signing first check the period of notice required to withdraw the opt out....then sign the contract.....and withdraw the opt out agreement after the notice period (the notice period is 7 days minimum, 3 months maximum). It is unfair dismissal if you are dismissed for not signing or withdrawing your opt out agreement.

  24. The Other Steve


    <ElFatbob >

    The elected MEP's vote on things that we seem to think we can negociate our way out of yet the unelected EU Commission issues dictats and we have to comply...

    Can someone explain this to me...

    </ElFatbob >

    I don't think you need someone to explain it you, you seem to have got the gist as it is. The elected parliament proposes and votes on stuff, but it doesn't matter a fig because the Council Of Ministers can do as they damn well please*.

    Good eh ?

    Like western civilisation, European democracy would be a good idea.

    *it's slightly more complicated than that, but not by much.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time by the hour

    The only way anyone should sign the opt-out is if they are being paid by the hour with that pay being a minimum of £40 /hr. Anyone on fixed wage are complete fools if they sign up for it.

    This is another case od the EU doing the people of the UK a favour by overriding the government.

  26. Andy

    opting out....

    exzaktly. those of us that want to earn the big bucks, turn in the hours, and get paid for it, while we can, will thanks you yes.

    given any luck, i won't have a mortagage by the time i am sprogging up.

    3month stints of 7 day weeks at 10-12 hours a day, hard, but worth it. makes holidays very nice to me.

    you takes your money, hows you wants it. or not. your choice.

    public sector cannot understand work working more than 9am to 3pm.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blame the EU for convenience....


    "The elected MEP's vote on things that we seem to think we can negociate our way out of yet the unelected EU Commission issues dictats and we have to comply..."

    I think someone needs to learn how the EU actually works. First of all YOU voted for your MEP who takes his orders, technically from YOU, but in reality YOUR NATIONAL GOVERNMENT.

    Now if you voted a complete idiot into either position then its technically your fault.

    OK, understood? Good...the EU itself does not make laws on its own - at least it can't make a law unless it is proposed by an MEP on behalf of a national government. The commission is the final auditing of a law which has to be agreed upon by all member nations (the UK is one of those). Once this is done is becomes a "EU DIRECTIVE" which is then separately voted upon by each national government and then signed into law from there. EU Law is - if you like, the abstract base class, while the national laws are the concrete classes inheriting from this (I never thought I'd explain this in terms of OO programming...hell!)

    The problem here is that the UK want to be part of the EU because it good for trade but don't want to be part of the EU because they (the UK MEPs in particular) keep making stupid laws - mind you it gives Gordo's Gang a convenience excuse for many things.

    Don't like the EU...well, under various rights legislations (at least ratified by all expect one - guess who?) you have THE RIGHT TO STAND AS AN MEP.

    So instead of complaining, go and find out how it all works and exercise your rights. Failure to do that renders you totally incompetent and unfit as a member of society IMHO

    ps: isn't the EUR-GBP rate great at the moment, I'm getting some fantastic deals on buying from the UK and its only going to get better :-)

  28. Anonymous Coward

    You'll have to work 100+ hours a week to pay off the massive debt!

    Perhaps the UK Government is concerned that unless you work ridiculous amounts of hours per week, you'll never get the world's largest debt paid off.

    As it stands the UK is currently, according to the BBC's Fiona Bruce (and she knows stuff!) "the most indebted nation IN HISTORY"

  29. Oz
    Thumb Down

    Re: opting out....

    "public sector cannot understand work working more than 9am to 3pm."

    The rest of your post was fine, but this sentence is, sadly, yet more uninformed and stereotypical nonsense. As a public sector IT worker I can assure you that I have spend periods of time working 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and sometimes even more hours where projects dictate.

    And yes, I'd love to work 9-3 every day - it would be bliss. If you can point me in the direction of these Public Sector IT jobs, I'd be well happy!

  30. Jonathan

    what a wonderful future

    thank god businesses won't loose out!

    shame about the people, but think lof the savings... who needs those databases and CCTV when everyone is locked away int heir little cubes working 16 hours a day and stumbling home too knackered to do anything...

    apart from those who can't get jobs as those who have one are working twice the hours the are paid to.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC: Blame the EU for convenience....

    Almost, but not quite.

    MEPs do not take instructions from their national governments. As an MEP, the policital party they belong to are members of pan-European political groups. MEPs have nothing to do with national governements, and are there to act as (sort of) auditors of the Commission.

    EU laws are proposed by the Commission. They are the only ones with the right to do so. But they will take on suggestions by the public, by national govts, EP, etc.

    Once the law has been drafted, it is sent to the Council of Ministers. This is made up of members of governemnts from all member states of the EU. Here it is discussed, argued over, changed, etc. This is then sent to the EP for their approval. They may reject it, and around the whole thing goes again.

    Once the Council and the EP agree, it goes back to the Commission, and they make a directive/regulation/recommendation/whatever out of it.

    It is then up to the national governments to implement the EU law. So stupid implementations of laws are not the EU's fault, but your governments. There are many cases of an implementation being contested in the European Court of Justice because of a malimplementation of an EU law. Where most countries seem to be able to do it properly, the UK and Ireland always seen to do it the most difficult way for them selves and their populations.

    Maybe it's an anglophone thing...?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "They should be able to do so if they choose"

    CBI deputy director general John Cridland: Many people want to work longer hours, in professions ranging from manufacturing to medical research," he said. "They do so to further their careers or earn extra money, or to help their firm through difficulties. They should be able to do so if they choose."

    funny how i should be able to do what i choose as long as it involves making somebody else more money and them paying more in tax.

    seems to be where they want free will to end these days

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Blame the EU for convenience....

    "Now if you voted a complete idiot into either position then its technically your fault."

    Not that it would matter anyway, as the EU Parliament has strictly no power whatsoever, It's a joke of a parliament with only a consultative role, all the decisions are taken by the Commission, which is a mixed bunch of bankers and bureaucrats and takes its orders from itself only.

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