Save the working time directive !


On 16 December the European Parliament will debate the Working Time Directive. The vote will likely take place on 17 December. Unless we, the public service trade unions of Europe mobilise, this vote could herald the first ever backward step on social policy, in the history of the European Union.

More importantly, it could wipe out decades of progress on fair working time for Europe’s workers.

The issue

The Working Time Directive, designed to regulate working time on the basis of health and safety, has been under concerted political attack for the last 5 years. Elements within the European Commission and the Council of Ministers have attempted to systematically dilute the provisions of the directive. On September 15, the Council of Ministers took a position on the directive that would render it almost useless as a tool to promote fair working hours for European workers. In taking this decision, the Council, with the encouragement of the European Commission, ignored not only a clear majority decision of the European Parliament, but also a succession of clear judgements by the European Court of Justice.

What is the role of EPSU and affiliates?

In simple terms; mobilise, mobilise, mobilise. In 2005, the European Parliament, under the stewardship of Spanish socialist Alejandro Cercas MEP, secured a stunning victory for working time. Remember that this victory was in a current Parliament that is not always sympathetic to workers’ rights. Unfortunately the Commission and Council dismissed the vote of the Parliament. But because of the positive publicity, the Council was unable to force through a negative result. Instead they have waited three years until, in press and publicity terms, the issue of working time had ‘slipped under the radar’. This lack of publicity for the issue is our biggest threat; no public pressure = no positive result.

We need to ensure that MEPs, and the Council of Ministers are made aware that this issue is of the highest importance to public service workers. We need to engage the media, lobby MEPs, preferably from their own constituencies, and use the oxygen of publicity to make sure that the Parliament holds our line (the CERCAS report) on working time. Please use the upcoming European Parliament elections (June 2009) as leverage with MEPs.

How has it come to this situation?

The Council decision on 15 September would have a number of damaging effects on the working time directive (see page 13-16 of the ETUC fact sheet, attached). On the 48 hour week, on rest beaks, on the individual opt-out, on the use of collective bargaining, and on the definition of working time itself, the Council intends to sweep away decades of social progress.
The European Parliament has decided to take an early, strong, position on 4 November, in committee, to stand against the Council attempts. However that leaves 6 weeks until the Parliament votes on the directive in plenary. It is up to EPSU to fill this period with public support for the original Parliament position; i.e.; the CERCAS report. If we do not, we run the risk of losing the vote, and losing the progress made.

What does this mean for public service workers?

Because the Council has made extreme proposals on the definition of working time, most importantly not respecting on-call time in the workplace as working time, the effect on nurses, doctors, fire-fighters, and legions of other public service workers will be profoundly damaging. No definition of on-call in the workplace as working time means unmanageable working hours, health and safety risks, no family time and a drastic pressure on the quality of the essential services being delivered.

What can you do?

EPSU will provide all affiliates with lists of the MEP’s telephone contacts. We will work toward the target of having contacted all MEPs by the end of our Executive Committee on 26 November.
You can also write letters to your MEP (see attached model courtesy of the ETUC)
And organise press conferences in national capitals between now and 16 December. The ‘final push’ of this part of the campaign will be to send a delegation to the ETUC Demonstration in Strasbourg on 16 December (details here).

But most importantly, mobilise your membership and engage national media to ensure that this issue is given the highest possible public profile.

We recommend using the symbol available on our website, here and running our campaign under the slogan; “Please don’t go back in time!” We need to hold accountable the EU Presidency, the Commission President, and the leaders of the most intransigent member states. If we don’t make this a direct critique of their political agenda, we will be living with the consequence for a long time. The Members of the European Parliament should be presented by you, the EPSU affiliates, with a choice – vote for fair working time, or see the consequences at the European elections in 2009.

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