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Expert comment, changes to workers' rights

The Financial Times reports that the Government plans to remove "worker protections enshrined in EU law" including the 48-hour working week. Professor Terence Hogarth of Warwick's Institute for Employment Research comments:

"The Working Time Regulations were introduced in 1998 by the UK Government to ensure compliance with the European Working Time Directive (WTD). In short, the regulations state that an individual can work, on average, a maximum of 48 hours a week over a given reference period. In practice, the regulations are more complicated, but this captures their essence.

"There has always been a degree of controversy over the regulations. The EU introduced the WTD as a health and safety measure. The UK Government disagreed saying that working hours were not a health and safety issues as defined in EU treaties. More generally, the WTD was not in the spirit of the drive to create a more flexible labour market to which the UK Government was committed. In negotiations with the EU, the UK Government was able to obtain an opt-out (agreed in 1993). This meant that when the working regulations eventually came into effect individual workers could choose to work more than 48 hours (i.e. they could opt-out of the regulations).

"Given the history of their introduction, it was always going to be interesting - post-Brexit - to see what happened to the regulations.

"If the regulations were to be abolished it is difficult to predict the impact. Average working hours have been in long-run decline and the opt-out provides those who want to work long-hours the opportunity to do so. That said, there are likely to be sectors of the economy where the regulations may well have an influence and act as a safeguard of sorts on the hours individuals work (notwithstanding the opt-out). If the regulations are to be abolished, then one might reasonably expect an impact assessment before any final decision is made."

15 January 2021


Sheila Kiggins

Media Relations Manager

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