Home > The Monday Musings Column > on the work time directive

on the work time directive

News that we in the UK are to review the directive in the wake of leaving the EU is good news for it is one of the benefits that those of us in favour of leaving wanted. Predicatably there have been anguished cries from the left, but I have very different recollections from that quarter when we had to introduce the WTD.

At the time I had ti agree various changes to working agreements with the national executive of the union that represented many of my team. People were not happy as it meant an end to much of the overtime that we were offering and it was only the fact that we were simply implementing what was to become employment law that got us an agreement in the end.

It wasn’t that our wages were low; they were better than average so there was no need to do extra hours top make up a living wage. Nor was it any headcount fudge for I would have been happy to recruit extra people if it had have been possible, but unemployment locally was effectively zero and one of the town’s newer employers was bussing people in for 100 miles away. No, the overtime was on offer because we were able to pick up ad-hoc contracts and needed labour to complete them. Offering overtime kept people happy and made us money.

My predecessor had run these contracts on agency cassual labour and whilst I could have done that to a degree, there are always people who do not want long term employment or full time either, but that always brings quality issues and I was happier using my own people. The problem was that many had begun to rely on the extra pay and implementing the WTD spoilt that. The union claimed it was a 20% pay cut, but we could only find a few that got anywhere near that (18% was about the highest). Overall, for those who regularly volunteered, it took around 10% out of their gross pay and that was still a significant figure. As a consequence the WTD was very unpopular in these parts.

It is a one size fits all regulation and working practices vary so much from country to country. The Dutch have a very short working week for example and whilst the UK does not have the highest weekly hours we are at the upper end of the spectrum. Ambitions to reduce the working week and allow more leisure time may sound like a nice thing, but in reality not that many people actually want it here,

Having introduced the WTD I moved on in my career and in my successor went back to using casually labour for the extra work. Times were changing locally and the influx of EU immigrant labour who would work for lower rates of pay made a significant difference. Had I wanted to use casuals they would have been paid £9.50 an hour; my successor could pay them £6.50…

There are good things about the WTD, for example the restrictions on hours for those driving commercial vehicles, even if in the UK we have not, so far, made adequate provision for drivers to take their breaks. It is not all bad, ut just needs looking at and tweaking to suit our needs rather than that of a composite regulation designed to placate the needs of a disparate group of nations spread across many degrees of latitude. Reviewing it is not sinister; merely sensible.

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