Ending 48 hour working week opt-out is affordable and good for social stability

15th December 2008
With worries over the Christmas credit crunch, job security and the late shopping rush during the Festive season, employers are being warned to keep an eye out for seasonal stress in their staff.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Europe’s largest professional health and safety body, has highlighted that those working in shops, pubs and restaurants are likely to find themselves under greater pressure than normal, with many enticing people with cut price offers in a desperate bid to boost sales figures.

Nattasha Freeman, IOSH’s president, said: “The last few weeks before Christmas are traditionally busy times as people go out to buy last minute presents. This rush places extra demands on employees who are already likely to be working at capacity, so employers need to watch out for signs that their employees are unable to cope.

“This extra pressure, coupled with fears over their personal finances and, in some cases, job security, could leave some people more susceptible to excessive pressure and the illnesses that can result from this. Employers should remember that personal stress factors can also impact on performance at work and this increases the potential for accidents.”

As MEPs meet to debate the future of the UK's individual opt-out from Europe's limit of 48 hours on the average working week, the TUC has published a report today (Monday) that shows ending the opt-out would cause business little difficulty. Ending the opt-out would also improve the health and safety of long-hours workers and the victims of accidents caused by overtired and stressed workers.

The TUC report Ending the opt-outs from the 48 hour week- Easy steps to decent working time says that the UK is still the long-hours capital of Europe, with one in eight workers (12.7 per cent) regularly working more than 48 hours a week.

However, well over one in three workers (37.6 per cent) only work one or two hours more a week. Small adjustments to these jobs would easily allow a 48 hour limit to be introduced. As the limit is an average calculated for most people over 17 weeks, individuals would still be able work more than 48 hours in any week as long as they reduce their hours by the same number in another week.

Employers would have to time adjust too, as the opt-out would be phased out over a number of years. The earliest the phase-out could start would be in 2012, well after when most commentators think the recession will end.

The 48 hour limit would start with the 460,000 workers doing more than 60 hours a week – a workload that is dangerous to them and those around them and adds up to more than seven eight-hour days a week. The experience of industries such as transport, which already have stricter limits, shows that reductions in working time can be achieved through higher productivity which benefits both employees and employers.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “MEPs have consistently opposed the UK individual opt-out from the 48 hour week, and they should do so again today. Our report shows that the impact on business of ending the opt-out is much exaggerated. Many workers only work a few hours over the limit and employers would get plenty of time to adjust.

“But it would make a difference to hard-pressed staff. Long hours working makes people ill and it is no surprise that most long-hours workers want to reduce their hours, relieving the pressure on their families. The Government's own research shows that individuals are not given a real choice about opting out, and that the law is hardly enforced. What the Government describes as an individual op-out is in reality no choice at all for many long-hours workers.”

Long hours fact file

· The majority of long hours employees (2.3 million) are not paid for their extra hours, and thus have little to fear from the end of the opt-outs in terms of their earnings.

· More than seven in ten (71.5 per cent) workers doing unpaid overtime say that they want to reduce their hours.

· 1,040,000 UK employees working more than 48 hours per week receive at least one hour of paid overtime.

· 325,000 of those working paid overtime (31.2 per cent) are only one or two hours above the 48 hour limit, which would make for an easily manageable transition.

· More than half (56.6 per cent) of those working paid overtime say that they want to cut their hours.

Source: Onrec.com