The European Commission will open a second round of talks with labour unions, business groups and others in December on whether it should revise existing EU rules on working time.
An initial six-week round of consultations was launched in March by László Andor, the European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, to gather views on the possible re-launch of efforts to change the working-time directive, which was adopted in 2003.
The question of what limits to place on working time remains sensitive for both unions and governments, especially in the current economic slump. The consultation came after five years of negotiations on revising the working-time directive collapsed in April 2009.
Negotiations to revise EU rules failed because several member states (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta and the UK) refused to scrap their general opt-outs from the current rules. The opt-outs allow workers to waive their right to limit their average working time per week to 48 hours. In the health sector alone, 15 member states have specific opt-outs. Divisions remain over whether on-call work by doctors and firefighters should count toward the 48-hour work limit.
The Commission says the current application of the law is “unsatisfactory” and needs to be adapted to new labour- market realities, notably the rise of part-time work and temporary contracts.
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