EU social partners negotiate over new maximum working hours

The directive valid in the European Union governing the regulation of working hours dates from the year 2003. New legal regulations aimed at adjusting to suit the profoundly changing working world are considered overdue. This affects, among other aspects, on-call services, minimum rest times and the flexible calculation of weekly working hours. A proposal for a new directive is to be submitted by the end of 2012.

Following the one-off extension of the negotiation period by the EU Commission in August 2012, the representatives of the social partners still have until the end of December to reach an agreement. Negotiations are being held between most important inter-industry social partners on an EU level. Those involved are BusinessEurope, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public services (CEEP) and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) as representatives of employers, and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) as representative for employees.

With regard to rules on working hours, according to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, valid since 01.12.2009 – and also referred to as the TFEU or the Lisbon Treaty - these social partners have a considerable sphere of influence. If the social partners reach an agreement, then under Article 155 TFEU they are entitled to propose its implementation in the form of a directive. If the parties manage to reach agreement by the end of the year, the Commission would submit their proposed directive to the Council of Ministers. The Council would not be able to make amendments to the proposal. It can only be rejected or accepted by qualified majority.

At present, the following minimum requirements apply for employees, excluding those in special areas:
  • a specific working week that, on average, does not exceed 48 hours including overtime
  • a daily minimum rest period of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period
  • a break during work if the employee's daily working hours amount to more than 6 hours
  • a minimum continuous rest period of 24 hours per 7-day period, in addition to the daily rest period of 11 hours
  • a minimum of 4 weeks of paid annual leave
  • additional protection in the case of night work

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