Political parties row over 48 hour working week

MSPs discuss European plans
MSPs discuss European plans

Labour MEPs have voted against Gordon Brown over the scrapping of Britain’s opt-out from the maximum 48 hour working week.

The European Parliament voted to remove Britain’s opt-out meaning the new resolution could be in place by 2011.

Labour MPs and MEPs disagreed on the move, with MEPs voting down the opt-out by 421 to 273.

Listen to working week:

The SNP have sided with the Prime Minister, arguing that the opt-out is necessary to retain the integrity and flexibility of many public services, particularly in rural and island areas.

SNP MEP Alyn Smith told Dunedin Napier News:  “Some MEPs are trying to hoodwink people into thinking that this is somehow a victory for the rights of workers.” He added:  “It is rare I find myself in total agreement with the UK government but when I do, as does my own government in Scotland, I’ll work with them.”

The issue has had increased pressure due to the economic downturn, with many member states wanting the option to exceed the 48 hour week.

A number of rural organisations, in particular the retained fire-fighters union, fear that some 321 of Scotland’s 391 fire stations will be drastically affected by this decision.  NFU Scotland is similarly concerned over the position of farming workers.

Supporters of the resolution argue that it provides sufficient short-term scope for working longer hours if necessary.

“Scottish workers, like those in the rest of Europe, have a right to common decent working and living conditions”, said David Martin, Scottish Labour MEP.

He concluded: “And the new 12-month averaging of working time, as opposed to the previous four-month average, offers great flexibility for work time planning.”

But opponents said it should not be up to the EU to determine the working patterns of different employment cultures in the member states.

Alyn Smith said: “I fundamentally disagree that working time should be regulated across 27 different states from the Algarve to the Arctic Circle. The impact of this decision, if actually implemented, would be quite unworkable for vast swathes of the country. It might look good in a centrally heated Brussels office but it assuredly will not do what it says on the tin.”

The dossier will now enter a  conciliation process where Member States will negotiate the minutia’s, meaning continued legal uncertainty for Europe’s workers.