Union fury on working hours

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The Independent Online
UNIONS ACCUSED the Government of protecting bad employers yesterday after ministers moved to exclude white-collar staff from new regulations on working hours.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, stunned union leaders when he tabled amendments to the regulations in Parliament on its final day before the summer recess. The changes will mean that white-collar workers and managerial staff will be effectively excluded from the 48-hour limit by removing protection for workers doing "voluntary unpaid overtime".

Crucially, employers will not be required to keep records of those who have opted out of the limit, a move that critics claim will make it impossible for the Health and Safety Executive to police the law. In a rare outburst of criticism of the Government, the TUC condemned the move and pointed out that the changes could not now be debated until the Commons sits again in October.

Brendan Barber, deputy general secretary of the TUC, immediately sent a letter to Mr Byers accusing him of breaching a commitment to consult unions before going ahead with the changes. "Earlier this week, government ministers were talking up their commitment to family-friendly employment and their opposition to the long-hours culture that sees men in Britain working longer hours than anywhere else in Europe," Mr Barber said.

"Yet in regulations slipped out at the last possible minute, they have removed from many employees the only legal weapon that they can use to reduce their working hours to an average of 48 hours a week." He added that many white-collar workers felt trapped into long hours by pressure of work, job insecurity and peer pressure.