TUC Conference: Byers fails to appease over 48-hour week

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The Independent Online
DESPITE ASSURANCES from Stephen Byers, the Trade Secretary, the TUC yesterday expressed "anger and dismay" about the way legislation on working hours is being introduced.

In an uncharacteristically forceful submission to the Department of Trade and Industry, TUC officials declared that amendments to the working time directive tabled by Mr Byers were "hasty and ill considered".

On Monday Mr Byers told congress that he had no intention of excluding nine million white-collar workers from the law as had been feared. But unions want the Byers amendments withdrawn, expressing distrust of his promise that he will issue guidance to accompany the regulations.

Delegates unanimously backed a motion which attacked the process by which the Government introduced the legislation.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the teacher's union, NASUWT, said that employees could be instructed to work more than 48 hours a week - the upper limit in the legislation. Mr de Gruchy said: "Pressure from an employer easily transforms `voluntary' into `compulsory'. "

Unions said ministers should have consulted employers and workers' representatives before translating the European directive into British law.

The document submitted to the trade department by the TUC said it was strongly opposed to the amendments tabled by the Government. "We believe that these amendments are a hasty and ill-considered response to complaints made by those opposed to any regulation of working time," it said.

The paper said that the changes constituted "a substantial and unacceptable erosion of rights" established when the statute was introduced here in 1998. The legislation would institutionalise the long-hours culture and weaken the Government's commitment to family-friendly employment. The TUC is considering taking the Government to the European Court.

Derek Hodgson, leader of the Communication Workers' Union, said he feared that the Government might be planning to sell shares in the Post Office. Barry Ramsbottom, joint general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, accused the Government of attempting to stifle debate on the sell-off of National Air Traffic Services.