>The maximum working time in the EU should be 48 hours a week, and the opt-outs from this rule should removed within three years, according to the majority of MEPs in Wednesday’s second reading vote at the Employment and Social Affairs Committee.
By adopting a co-decision report from Alejandro Cercas (PES, ES) with 35 votes for, 13 against and 2 abstentions, the committee made clear its disagreement with the Council (where a common position was adopted on 9 June 2008) notably regarding the non-participation clause, more commonly known as the “opt-out”, and on on-call time, an issue of particular importance for the health sector.
The committee confirmed its first reading position by adopting an amendment stipulating that the non-participation clause should lapse three years after the reformed directive enters force.
The Council had proposed that the working week in the EU should continue to be limited to a maximum of 48 hours, except where a Member State invoked a non-participation clause. This would have allowed workers to agree to work longer, subject to certain limits: no more than 60 hours on average a week when calculated over a period of three months or 65 hours where there is no collecting agreement and “when the inactive period of on-call time is considered as working time.”
On-call time considered working time
On-call time means “any period during which the worker has the obligation to be available at the workplace in order to intervene, at the employer's request, to carry out his activity or duties." This issue principally concerns medical staff.
For the Council, the inactive period of on-call time should not be considered as working time unless national legislation, a collective agreement or an agreement between the social partners provides otherwise. This “inactive period” is when the worker is on-call but no in fact called upon to carry out his or her duties.
In their vote, MEPs in the committee recognise that there is a difference between active and inactive on-call time, and that the latter can be calculated in different way, but they nevertheless insist that the full period of on-call time, including the inactive period, should be counted as working time.
Working time directive: first victory
>The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) welcomes the adoption by the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, by a large majority, of the Cercas report on the Working Time Directive. The Cercas report disavows the decision taken by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) last June, which was a disastrous move for European workers.
ETUC General Secretary John Monks commented: ‘The European trade unions cannot but welcome this vote, which represents an important victory on this issue. We now call on the European Parliament to adopt a firm position with regard to the Commission and Council at the vote in plenary on 17 December. The European trade union movement will demonstrate on 16 December in Strasbourg to ask the European Parliament to reject the Council’s decision and to confirm its position adopted at first reading.’
The ETUC will develop these points at its press conference on 6 November, held in collaboration with Mr Cercas and the European Federation of Public Service Unions.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT EMPLOYMENT COMMITTEE POSITION ENDANGERS FRAGILE COMPROMISE ON WORKING TIME
>BUSINESSEUROPE is concerned that the wide ranging changes proposed by the European Parliament’s Employment Committee will put in danger the fragile compromise agreed between member states. The changes proposed by the Employment Committee would significantly hamper the flexibility that is necessary for workers and companies to operate in today’s global economy and therefore negatively affect Europe’s competitiveness at a time where Europe can simply not afford to put further breaks on growth and employment. The main concerns are the following:
1. BUSINESSEUROPE is alarmed that despite a number of safeguards introduced by the Council, the Employment Committee voted to delete the opt-out provision. The opt-out is a vital tool for companies and many individuals value the opportunity it offers to earn more money by working additional hours.
2. European employers are also critical of the Employment Committee’s decision to count inactive on-call time as working time. The Council provided a sensible solution to problems arising from various cases in the Court of Justice. This decision will have negative budgetary implications across member states in the private but also public sector.
Ernest-Antoine Seillière, President of BUSINESSEUROPE said: “The vote of the Employment Committee of the European Parliament has put in danger the pragmatic solution agreed between member states and the possibility of finally adopting an amended directive. We believe that MEPs should think twice and support the Council’s common position at the plenary vote.”
Why break the package deal? Working Time Directive once more jeopardized!
>The European Parliament’s Employment Committee endorsed today Mr Cercas’ recommendation for the second reading on the working time directive. CEEP is surprised that the Committee was not able to use the sense of responsibility and cooperation for the best solution, often shown in the past.
“By this vote, said Rainer Plassmann, Secretary General of CEEP, the Committee paved the ground for the failure of the difficult compromise reached by the Council in June. This was only reached after many years of hard debates. Therefore we hope that the EP plenary vote in December will take its responsibility for the well-functioning of many essential services”.
Public services employers are concerned that, once again, the debate in the Committee was nearly monopolised by the issue of the opt –out, and that the crucial, but politically less “attractive”, issue of inactive on call time suffered from the “monolithic” approach of the Committee.
The Council deal safeguarded the flexibility of 24 hour public services, while at the same time protecting workers from possible abuse. This is all what public services employers asked for since years, as the ability not to count the inactive part of on call time as working time will greatly improve the effective provision of key SGIs all over Europe.
After the EP Committee vote, CEEP can only recommend its members to keep doing what they are doing since the SIMAP and JAGER rulings. Namely: “as clarity to the uncertainties brought by these ECJ rulings is not provided by the EU legislator, you will have to keep bringing clarity yourself”.
“However, said Rainer Plassmann, Secretary General of CEEP, as representative of public services employers at European level, CEEP would like Europe to be able to find the appropriate solutions too. And therefore we call on the EP plenary to reverse today’s’ vote.”