The European Parliament has voted to scrap an opt-out from the rules limiting the working week in the EU to an average of 48 hours, but the ruling won’t come into force for another three years and it could still be blocked if the UK Government wins support in the Council of Ministers.
UK unions are rightly pleased about the Euro-Parliament vote. Under the current system — used more in the UK than elsewhere — individuals can opt out if they “want” to work longer hours.
The EU “Working Time Directive” guarantees workers 11 hours’ rest per day and regular breaks; a weekly working time of 48 hours, on average, or less; a minimum annual holiday of four weeks; and night working to be limited, usually, to eight hours out of 24.
These are very modest proposals. But to the UK ruling class committed to “flexible” working it is “socialism” or some other dirty word.
Staff from Scarborough coach builders Plaxton’s are among the thousands of workers whose pensions have been hit by the collapse of their company scheme. They joined a TGWU delegation which marched through Whitehall before meeting David Blunkett on his first day in his new Cabinet role as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Their union is calling for the government to make it compulsory for employers and employees to contribute to workers’ pensions and called for more money to help those who already have lost out.
The 500 Plaxton workers were able to keep their jobs only through a management buyout but their pensions are still in the hands of the former US company, which says it can only afford to honour a third of their value.