Thousands march in Strasbourg for fair working time

(16 December, 2008, Strasbourg) Over 10,000 trade unionists demonstrated outside the European Parliament, calling on Members to vote for fair working time in the EU. The MEPs are due to vote on the working time directive on Wednesday (December 17). At stake is the definition of working time, the period over which the maximum average working week is calculated, and perhaps most importantly, the extent to which EU member states are legally obliged to implement the directive.

The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) headed the public service workers in the demo. Addressing the crowd, EPSU General Secretary Carola Fischbach-Pyttel stated that: "the European Parliament must recognize that a fair working time directive is a must for Europe’s nurses, doctors, firefighters, police, and other emergency workers. For essential services to be provided safely, safe working hours are essential"

The working time directive has been one of the pillars of the social dimension of the European Union. In June, EU Employment ministers made a proposal to repeal some of the key provisions of the directive. The European Parliament must now decide whether to give in to Ministerial pressure, or to stand up for fair working time. If the Ministers'proposal is passed, it would mark the first backward step on social policy in EU history.

Alejandro Cercas, the MEP responsible for steering the directive through Parliament, has been working towards an absolute majority in the key sections on: "on-call" duty in the workplace; the reference period (for calculating working hours); and the so called "opt out" from the directive. Deputy Cercas has long been a proponent for a strong and fair working time directive. The original vote, in May 2005, saw an absolute majority achieved on this position only for the European Commission and Council to immediately reject the vote.

For more on the EPSU position on the working time directive please go to www.epsu.org/r/152