Frettens Update: Deadline for agreement on reform of Working Time Directive extended
The European Commission has agreed to extend the period for EU countries to agree on reform of the EU Working Time Directive to 31 December 2012. Negotiations had begun in early December 2011 with a view to updating EU working time rules to reflect ‘profound changes in the world of work’ and ‘better meet the needs of employers and workers in the 21st century’.
Paul Burton, Frettens Employment Solicitor, says “EU legislation requires the Commission to consult with EU countries before it proposes any changes to EU social legislation. The countries decided to exercise their right to negotiate between themselves on what changes should be made. They are allowed nine months for negotiations but this period can be extended if there is unanimous agreement between employer and worker groups and the Commission. The Commission agreed to the joint proposal for an extension on the basis that the negotiations are making progress.”
If the countries reach an agreement they can ask for it to be implemented as a Directive. The Commission would then present the agreement as a Directive to the EU’s Council of Ministers. The Council can then either adopt the Directive, or reject it, by qualified majority, but may not amend it. The European Parliament would only be informed of the process as it is not a co-legislator. If there is a failure to reach an agreement, the Commission will make a legislative proposal to amend the Directive based on its previous consultation and impact assessment work.
This attempt at reform of the Directive may be more successful without the European Parliament’s involvement. A previous attempt at reform failed in April 2009, after five years of negotiations, as the European Parliament had insisted that the opt-out from the 48-hour working week be phased out. Certain member states, including the United Kingdom, were adamant that the opt-out must be retained as it was of vital importance to business. It also proved impossible to reach agreement on the treatment of on-call time and those working under multiple contracts.