Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
BBC Learning English Launch BBC Media Player
  • Help
  • Text only
You are in:Learning English > News English > Words in the News
Learning English - Words in the News
03 June, 2005 - Published 11:10 GMT
EU Working Time Directive
Stress in the office
Unions claim long hours increase stress

European Union ministers have failed to agree on changes to the Working Time Directive which would have ended Britain's opt-out from the forty-eight hour limit on the working week. The government had argued that scrapping the exemption would have been deeply unhelpful to Britain and other member states. This report from John Moylan:

Listen to the story

The Working Time Directive enshrines people's rights in the workplace. It defines the length of the maximum working week, the length of breaks and annual leave.

But Britain negotiated an opt-out from the directive. Firms can ask staff to work longer hours and staff have the right to say yes or no. The CBI claims a third of UK firms use the opt-out, but now many more countries use it too, following a series of European legal rulings which threatened to heap excessive costs on national health systems.

These proposals would have scrapped the opt-out by 2012, although member states could have asked for it to be extended. The government felt that was not acceptable. It was represented here by Alan Johnson, Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry. He said other countries felt the same way.

Britain had hoped for sufficient support to form a blocking minority against the proposal. In the end, no vote was taken. Some reports suggested the opposing sides were in fact evenly balanced.

The matter now returns to the European parliament which recently voted to scrap the opt-out altogether. If a solution to the opt-out issue can be found, it is unlikely to be until well into next year.

John Moylan, BBC, Luxembourg

Listen to the words

permission not to do something

looks after, preserves

not being part of something (here, not acting according to the directive)

legal rulings
decisions taken by law-makers

to heap
to put very large amounts

cancelled, abolished

a blocking minority
a small number of countries which would be able to stop the proposal

evenly balanced
where both sides are equally represented and equally strong

well into next year
not at the beginning of the year


Other Stories