European & International News

What future for the Working Time Directive?

[Brussels, 30 March 2011] The review of the Working Time Directive moves forward as the European Social Partners respond to EU commission’s consultation.

The organisation of working time is a major element of Social Europe, The regulation of working hours is fundamental to health and well-being of workers and the ability of female and male workers to take up the responsibilities of raising children, caring for elderly family members and be active citizens in their communities, while increasingly participating in the labour market.

However, the proposals that the European Commission made when it launched the consultation of European Social Partners in December 2010 represent - again - a step back rather than an improvement. The proposals included keeping in place the individual opt-out from the maximum 48 hour working week, extension of the reference periods for calculating the weekly working hours from 4 months up until 12 months, and weak provisions on work-life balance.

Social Partners to negotiate the content of the directive?

The Commission also asked the European Social Partners whether they would be willing to negotiate the working time directive between themselves.

Based on the responses it seems that the future of the Working Time Directive may be in the hands of the European Social Partners.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says it is ready to negotiate a joint position with employers, but underlines that the revision of the working time directive must involve phasing-out of the individual opt-out in the near future, the retention of the reference periods and ensuring compliance with the judgments by the European Court of Justice regarding on call time and compensatory rest.

EWL’s position

The key question for the EWL is that the directive must ensure a progressive working time framework for all women and men workers of Europe in safeguarding their right to reconcile work and family life as well as their broader social rights, health, safety and well-being.

Irregular and unpredictable working hours will have a detrimental impact on the EU Treaty obligation relating to equality between women and men and gender mainstreaming, if the Working Time Directive is inconsistent with other initiatives addressing gender equality.


In 2004, the Commission put forward a proposal to amend the current working time Directive 2003/88/EC. The proposal aimed to clarify the Directive’s application to on-call time and what flexibility should apply to the timing of minimum rest periods, whether to give more flexibility in calculating weekly working time; and how to review
the individual opt-out from the 48-hour limit to average weekly working time.

However, in April 2009, the EU’s Council of Ministers and the European Parliament concluded they could not reach agreement on the proposal, despite lengthy negotiations.

Commission President Barroso announced in September 2009, that the incoming Commission would launch a new review of the Directive, based on a two-stage consultation of the social partners in accordance with Article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and analysis of their views, together with
a detailed social and economic impact assessment.

The first phase of consultation was launched in March 2010.

Read the European Commission’s communication on second phase consultation on the working time directive

Read the response of ETUC

Read the response of CEEP

Read the response of UEAPME

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