Learning English - Words in the News
03 June, 2005 - Published 11:10 GMT
EU Working Time Directive
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:
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
a blocking minority
well into next year