'Stressed' staff test EU rule on hours

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AN INTERNATIONALLY respected organisation that sets standards for management techniques is to become the first employer in the country to be challenged under the working time directive, which comes into force tomorrow, for "running staff into the ground".

Union leaders accused the British Standards Institution of forcing some of its 200 managers and inspectors to work more than 100 hours a week compared with a 48-hour limit to be introduced under EU law.

Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing, Science, Finance union, said that staff were being run into the ground. "Of all the organisations we deal with, we would expect a body responsible for setting technical and managerial standards for industry to be a forefront of employment practice," he said. The institution's inspectors assess the techniques and products of organisations to see if they qualify for a BSI "kitemark".

Sally Kosky, also of MSF, said a survey by the union showed that 94 per cent of employees believed their jobs were more stressful and demanding than a year ago.

Union representatives have asked management for "crisis talks", but said there had been no response. A memorandum from one manager declared that, under the institution's policy, staff who were not prepared to meet tough new targets needed to "review their future" with the organisation.

One member of his staff replied: "If I were to agree to achieve this increased target I would be agreeing to work an average 89 hours per week."One of the contentious issues is whether time spent driving to see clients constitutes working hours under the directive.

A spokesman for the institution said management was "not aware" that any of its employees was working more than 100 hours per week.

The spokesman said the organisation took the health and safety of its employees seriously and there were comprehensive programmes in place to deal with such issues.

A staff survey earlier this year had confirmed that employees were "happy".

The executive committee of the institution was confident that its employment practices met all its obligations under the European directive. Referring to its refusal to meet the union, the spokesman said that the "best and healthiest" relationship between BSI and its staff was a direct one with their line managers.