EU drops plans for working hours cap

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The Independent Online

The European Union has abandoned talks on capping its working week after failing to agree reforms that could have stopped Britain and 14 other countries opting out of the 48-hour limit.

Talks involving the European Parliament and the EU's Czech presidency collapsed yesterday morning, with each side blaming the other. New proposals are likely only when the EU appoints a new executive European Commission later this year or in 2010.

The European Parliament wanted rigid curbs on the working week and governments in the 27-nation EU had been seeking more flexibility, which they said was especially important during the global economic crisis. "The MEPs were not willing to accept a deal that would... improve the employees' situation, and, at the same time, lead to a more flexible labour market," said the Czech Labour minister Petr Necas. "This is what Europe needs at the time of the economic downturn."

Javier Cercas, rapporteur for parliament, said he was not optimistic on the prospects of reaching agreement, but added: "We have left the future open and hope to have a solution with the new Commission and the new Parliament."

While the parliament wanted to phase out exemptions from the maximum working week, governments wanted to keep them in some cases or sectors for employees who agree to work longer. Trade unions said letting people work more than 48 hours would put pressure on them to do so and raise the risk of accidents.

The EU Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said more states were now likely to start exercising their right to use the opt-out. "And there won't even be more safeguards for workers who do use the opt-out," he said.