The European Working Time Directive was first adopted in 1993 as a safety measure because of the recognised negative effects on health and safety of excessively long working hours.

The Directive, which limits the weekly working period to 48 hours, has always aroused a lot of controversy across Europe. The UK has made an extensive use of the opt-out clause, which allows Member States not to apply the limit of working hours under certain conditions. Opt-outs in specific sectors are gradually being introduced in other countries as well.

Following a number of legal judgments by the European Court of Justice, and a broad consultation process, the European Commission has recently proposed a substantial revision of the Directive.

On 11 May 2005, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted on the report by Alejandro Cercas Alonso MEP (PES, ES) and rejected the Commission proposal to retain the opt-out clause with certain safeguards. The provision allows individual workers to sign away the protection of the working time directive and choose to work longer than the set 48 hours. The Parliament also wants all time spent on-call, including time not actually working, to be counted as ‘working time’.

The Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), an EPHA member, welcomed the European Parliament’s decision. All CPME concerns put forward in the policy paper "CPME position on the revision of the working time directive" and advocated towards MEPs were met. A CPME press release is attached to this article.

The proposal will now go back to the Council for further consultation by member states.

An updated briefing note on key elements of European Working Time Directive and its proposed amendments can be downloaded below.

Last modified on May 27 2005.