Following a failed attempt to revise the current European Working Time Directive (EWTD) in the period 2004-2009, the European Commission started another two-stage consultation process with the social partners in 2010, which is scheduled to conclude by the end of 2012. The EPHA Briefing on the EWTD provides background information on the Directive and examines some of the key sticking points at the heart of the ongoing debate.
The current Directive - 2003/88/EC - unintentionally created a situation where there is great variety across the Union in how working hours are allocated. For example, flexible working time models have been successfully implemented especially in the northern half of Europe, whereas Southern and Eastern European countries tend to be more rigid overall.
Health professionals, and especially doctors, are therefore subject to many different work regimes which have a direct impact on the length of hours they must or are permitted to work, the rules pertaining to how rest periods are calculated and when they need to be taken, and the time that can be made available for training. This has caused a fervent debate over how to resolve these issues, with differing views voiced by stakeholders. At the same time, professional roles are changing in light of technological and structural health system shifts, and many health professionals (amongst them many female workers, e.g. nurses and midwives who juggle professional roles and motherhood) are also keen to have a better work/life balance so that their jobs can become more attractive and they can build long-term careers in the health field.
Given that the EWTD has a profound impact on a variety of sectors, the reform process has proven to be tricky: the original (2004) proposal could not be adopted due to stalemate between the Council and the Parliament following two readings and a conciliation procedure in 2009.
Since the Commission is obliged to consult EU-level management and labour representatives before proposing changes to social legislation, it initiated another two-stage consultation process with the social partners in 2010. In the health sector, relevant stakeholders including the European Public Service Union (EPSU), the European Hospital and Healthcare Employers Association (HOSPEEM), and a number of professional organisations – also EPHA members – were already consulted to reflect on the best way forward. This was complemented by an impact assessment, an independent study on the social and economic dimensions of the EWTD, and a Commission report on how rules are being implemented in the Member States.
Formal negotiations between the cross-sectoral social partners and the Commission began in November 2011, and in August 2012 it was decided to extend the negotiation period till the end of the year to allow for further debate. Overall, there appears to be little desire for a completely reworked Directive in favour of a reworking around prominent ECJ cases.
The EPHA Briefing on the EWTD hones in on some of the key issues under discussion by the relevant stakeholders from a health professional perspective, among them:
the definition and organisation of working time;
the timing of compensatory rest;
the definition of resident on-call time;
the possibility for individual opt-outs;
the promise to find new ways to reconcile work and family life; and
the need to avoid health inequalities resulting from the ’’normalisation’’ of increasingly discriminative working modes for white and blue collar workers
The issues on the table are not new; as the controversy moves into the next round, EPHA will follow the outcomes with interest in the hope that a workable compromise can be established that can serve to rectify the shortcomings of the current Directive and allow both health professionals and patients to benefit from a modern revised Directive fit to meet the health system challenges of the 21st Century.
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