Defiance on working time evaporates

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Indy Politics
Hardline Tory talk that ministers would openly defy the European Court and refuse to implement the 48-hour week working time directive, was repudiated by a senior Government source last night.

The Independent reported last month that there would be swift implementation of the directive if, as expected, the European Court upheld it in a formal judgment on Tuesday - but Conservative sources were quick to deny that, with talk of open defiance.

An authoritative source confirmed last night that if the court upheld the directive, ministers would act quickly to consult business and industry before preparing and tabling legislation to enact the new law. However, he said there was no question of defying the law as laid down by the court, and there would be no "foot-dragging".

But the Prime Minister will repeat that the Government will take a robust line against the directive in the current round of European inter-governmental talks, insisting that unless there is a treaty change to stop health and safety powers being used to introduce employment legislation, he will retaliate by vetoing other treaty changes.

Stephen Byers, a Labour employment spokesman, told The Independent : "We will apply Article 18 because it gives flexibility to both employers and employees who will be given the opportunity of choosing whether or not they wish to work in excess of 48 hours."

Under the provisions of the article, there was no question of employees being sacked, or penalised, for refusing to work more than a 48-hour week.

t One of the country's largest unions for skilled and white collar workers yesterday urged both public sector organisations and privatised companies to negotiate a flexible approach to the working time directive or face the threat of legal action, writes Barry Clement.

The Manufacturing Science Finance union contends that all "emanations of the state", which includes enterprises sold off by the Government, will be the subject of the new European law from 23 November and that employees could take court proceedings if management refuses to implement the provisions of the directive.