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Squeezing out every last hour?

Brexit could mean having to work longer
Ryan Fletcher, Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Leaving the EU would put around a million workers at risk of excessive working hours, new research from the TUC has shown.


The TUC analysis found that since the EU introduced the Working Time Directive (WTD) in 1998, the number of UK employees working an average of more than 48 hours a week has declined from 3,992,000 to 3,494,000 – a drop of around half a million people.


Because Britain’s workforce has increased by 13.4 per cent during that period, the TUC calculated that without the EU working time legislation, 4.5m employees would now be working excessive hours.


The WTD limits average working weeks to a maximum of 48 hours, normally calculated over 17 weeks, although individual workers can opt out if they wish.


In industries where long hours are the norm, a vote to leave the EU will leave many employees vulnerable to the demands of bosses determined to squeeze every last hour out of their workforce.


This is particularly risky for those who drive for a living, said Unite national officer for road transport and logistics, Adrian Jones.


He said, “The WTD ensures that drivers are rested and safe. Without it means that many will have to go back to the bad old days of working 60 or 70 hours a week. It’s extremely important that our members and other road users are not put at risk by the drive to make more money.”


As well as effecting haulage and delivery drivers, the axing of WTD will also have dire implications for bus drivers, explained Unite national officer for passenger transport, Bobby Morton.


“The Holy Grail for UK bus drivers has long been to achieve driving hours akin to their counterparts in Europe rather than being governed by British Domestic Driving Hours, which are considerably longer,” Morton said.


“Brexit would not only destroy that ambition but would give bus operators the green light to introduce even more punitive driving hours as there would be no recourse to Working Time regulations.”


Rural workers would also be affected. For low paid agriculture and food workers, the WTD prevents employers “forcing them to work every hour god sends”, said national officer Julia Long.


Without it there would be no protection against excessive hours for workers who already face many difficulties.


“The Leave Campaign talks about “cutting red tape” but the truth is that coming out of the EU poses a danger to workers. We know before the legislation that people were made to work all hours and if we come out there will be nothing to stop the same happening again,” said Long.


‘Vulnerable people’

“These are low paid, 24-hour and seasonal sectors often staffed by vulnerable people such as migrant workers. Without the WTD employers will have the chance to attack workers’ rights and use and abuse their employees.”


In many industries employees already work over 48 hours a week, but leaving the EU would mean they would have no recourse to shorter hours if they needed to cut down.


Those industries include mining and quarrying, where 33 per cent of the workforce put in more than 48 hours a week during 2015, transport and storage, where 21 per cent worked more than 48 hours, and agriculture, in which 28.5 per cent of employees worked over the WTD limit in 2015.


Twenty per cent of construction workers did the same, as well as 17 percent of those working in education.


TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the WTD benefited family life and health and safety for millions of British workers.


She said, “Working people’s rights are on the line in this referendum – and working time protections are particularly at risk.


“Brexit campaigners have made no secret of their wish to scrap working time protections. If they get their way, the 48-hour limit will be gone and your boss will be able to force you to work 60 or 70-hour weeks.


“The only way working people can be sure of keeping their rights at work is to stay in the EU. Nobody knows exactly how bad things could get for workers’ rights outside of the EU, but the legal experts are all saying it will be worse.”





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