Our right to choose how many hours a week we work is under threat from the European Union again. Debate over the 48 hour week has been going on for more than a decade. In Britain we have retained an opt-out which allows individuals to choose if they wish to work longer hours. However, the prospective EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Laszlo Andor, recently told MEPs that there was a "compelling case to revisit" the Working Time Directive.
The result of losing the opt-out would be disastrous for medical staff, small businesses, emergency services, and the hospitality and tourism industry. Ambulance services and hospitals in Wales are already under a great deal of pressure and the EU’s ever-changing legislation on rest breaks and on-call time has proven a disaster for patient care. Likewise more than three quarters of our firemen are retained. Losing the opt-out clause would dramatically reduce their capacity to deliver round the clock emergency cover.
Finally the Welsh economy is greatly strengthened by small businesses and tourism. Both would struggle to cope if staff were told they could only work 48 hours per week.
This legislation would also affect some 3 million people in Britain who choose to work more per week. Perhaps they are self-employed or perhaps they rely upon the extra money at the end of the month. Either way, capping the working week would affect anybody who currently benefits from voluntary overtime. Whilst it’s essential that no-one is obliged to work long hours, being told how much we can work by Brussels is an affront to the liberty of our hard working nation.
I am meeting figures from the BMA, CBI Wales, the Fire Brigade Union and British Hospitality Association over the coming weeks, the majority of my appointments being tomorrow ahead of Strasbourg next week where I hope to appeal to British MEPs before the Commissioner Nominees are voted in. After fact finding I hope to present to Parliament the arguments that will dissuade MEPs voting in a Commissioner who refuses to pledge protection to our opt-out. On Tuesday when we sit in the hemicycle to vote, anyone pressing for Andor will have guilt on their hands when you can no longer work over time. It's about time we repatriated such powers entirely back into our own hands and not let faceless individuals in country's hundreds of miles away tell the likes of you and I when we can and cannot work, and worse still, tell our emergency services when they can or cannot respond to a call!
I will be posting on this regularly. Please join in the debate!