Tory plan to sabotage EU deal on hours and holidays

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The Independent Online
British workers who are expected to win the right to work no more than 48 hours a week and have statutory paid holidays under a European Court of Justice ruling today would have the rights taken away after the general election, John Major promised last night.

Labour immediately signalled that such a proposal would form part of the election campaign. "That means they will go into the next election asking people to vote for a holiday-free Britain," a senior Labour source said.

The Prime Minister made the pledge at the annual speech to the Lord Mayor's banquet at the Guildhall, in the City of London.

Under the terms of the Working Time Directive, all workers would have automatic entitlement to three weeks' annual paid holiday. Labour estimates that nearly 2.5 million British employees - 12 per cent of the workforce - get no paid holiday leave.

"Britain is the only country in the European Union where employees have no legal right to paid holiday," a Labour spokesman said.

The Government has decided to implement the directive almost immediately and then, if re-elected next year, will try to change the governing European treaty.

In his speech last night the Prime Minister repeated that the Government would threaten to veto any further European treaty unless it included guaranteed cover for a British opt-out from employment legislation like the directive.

A government source said later that Mr Major did not want the Working Time Directive to apply to the United Kingdom; any treaty change would have to be retrospective and allow the United Kingdom exemption from the provisions of the directive.

This means that if the European Court upholds the directive today, as expected, ministers will implement it as soon as possible. Mr Major will then seek its revocation in a new treaty that is due to be concluded in Amsterdam next June - if he is re-elected in an expected May election.

In his speech, the Prime Minister said that the Government would continue to resist proposals that would damage British competitiveness, costing the country markets and losing jobs. He said that basic employee protection was long established in common law.

"We are in favour of good working conditions in this country," he said. "They are very important.''

The 48-hour week and you, page 4

CBI in Harrogate, page 17