The Daily Mail reports: “the Coalition will argue that unfair dismissal and compensation claims are increasingly being exploited by disgruntled staff and their lawyers.” The article notes that “The greatest increase in claims has come under EU legislation. Numbers of cases involving the European Working Time Directive – which limits the working week to 48 hours – almost quadrupled last year from 24,000 to 95,200. Numbers of race discrimination claims have gone up by nearly 40 per cent in two years to reach 5,700 last year.”

To recall, the 1993 Working Time Directive provides that workers must not work more than an average of 48 hours a week although it allows for derogations. The UK has got an “opt-out” clause successfully negotiated by the Conservative government. Following a number of European Court of Justice rulings the European Commission has decided to revise the text and in 2004. After years of behind closed doors negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council were unable to reach a compromise on three controversial points: the opt-out, on-call time and multiple contracts.

Presently, the working time Directive limits working time to 48 hours per week on average, including any overtime. Nevertheless, under the 'opt-out' a worker may agree with the employer to work hours exceeding that limit. But, the Directive does not set any explicit working time limit. The Commission and the European Parliament have demanded to the “opt-out” to come to an end three years after the amended directive enters force.

Whereas the Council common position provided that the inactive period of on-call time should not be considered as working time except national legislation or an agreement between the social partners provides for it, the MEPs believe that the full period of on-call time, inactive or not, should be considered as working time.

The Council’s common position has left to the Member States to decide the reasonable period within which compensatory rest periods should be granted. However, the European Parliament believes that such periods should be granted at the end of the working period according to the applicable legislation or a social partner’s agreement.

The amending proposal was, therefore, withdrawn and the current directive remains in force. The Working time directive should not be amended but abolished, rules on working time should be dealt at national and company level and not at EU level. However, the Commission is very likely to put forward a new proposal.