European Working Time Directive – A box ticking exercise?

European Working Time Directive – A box ticking exercise?

The European Working time directive was first created in 1993 with clear goals, mainly, to ensure people aren’t overworked. But with over twenty years and two revisions under its belt, is it just expensive red tape, or does the legislation have a real role in Europe going forward?

Recent debates in the UK about their role in the EU moving forward have naturally brought items like the EWTD to the fore. As a Euro-sceptical nation at the best of times though, does the UK reflect the thoughts of any other EU nations? The directive has been slowly phased in for most member states, especially regarding those working in medicine, with a limit on Doctors working time of 52 hours applying until 2011.

The most obvious cost to a free-market is the extra revenue created and wages earned by an employee working overtime, or working longer hours at short notice. So what does this extra workforce management cost? The think tank Open Europe places the cost of this inability to work freely at between £3.5 and £3.9 billion a year (2009). However, in the UK, there is an option to opt-out of the 48-hour restriction. In the time since the directive came into force in 1993, the number of UK employees working more than a 48 hours a week has risen, from 15% in 1993 to 18% in 2008. In 2010, the European Commission re-examined the UK’s exemption, showing that not all member states are happy with special rules for other states.

More recently, Ireland has been referred to the EU’s courts of Justice for not complying with the EWTD time and attendance rules. In the case of junior doctors in some Irish hospitals, they are being asked to work 100 hour weeks, and shifts of 36 hours. Even if Ireland had the provision to work more than the 48-hours (similar to the UK), this wouldn’t allow for such long periods of work and a lack of rest times.

Do we want a doctor who’s on his 35th hour of his shift treating us in the emergency room? Do the economic and social benefits of having a rested and happy work force out-weight the costs to the free-market?

Regardless of our answers to the above question, by taking Ireland to court, Europe’s showing it’s time to sit up and listen – and that the grace period is now over. It's time to take time and attendance seriously.

 



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