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EU employment ministers reach compromise over working time directive and agency workers

17 June 2008

Agency workers are set to have equal employment rights but Britain has retained its right to opt out of the 48-hour working week for another five years following a compromise agreement hammered out by EU employment ministers last week.

Under the latest version of draft directive British workers will be able to waive the 48-hour week limit but will not be allowed to work more than

60 hours. In response to numerous cases involving time on-call, the draft directive proposes to distinguish ‘active’ on-call time and ‘inactive’ on-call time, where member states may choose to regard inactive on-call time as working time, though if they choose not to, such inactive on-call time may not be regarded as rest-time.

Two issues appear to remain under discussion: whether such agreement must be renewed every year and whether employers would be forced not to invoke the opt out at the time of signature of the employment contract or within four weeks of the contract starting.

Agency workers would qualify for equal rights from the first day of their assignment but collective agreements between representative bodies at national level may provide for a qualifying period. The UK has indicated that a 12-week qualifying period would be introduced under this provision, as per the agreement reached between the CBI and the TUC in May (see SJ news, 27 May 2008).

Agency workers will be granted the same rights as their employed counterparts in terms of pay, statutory sick pay, pension, maternity leave, and working time rights such as breaks and holiday entitlement.

Employers would also have to tell agency workers of permanent vacancies and employment agencies will not be able to stop businesses directly employing workers who started off as agency workers.

The draft directive will now return to the European Parliament for approval with an implementation date of spring 2010 at the earliest.

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