SNP MEPs have strongly condemned a European Parliament demand that EU Working Time rules be enforced much more strictly.
Our recent plenary session vote in Strasbourg was not about the principle of retaining the 48 hour week basic working week, which we continue to support, but was in response to a European Commission proposal to amend certain aspects of the Working Time Directive, in the light of some years of experience.
The most controversial aspect of the current Directive has been the individual opt-out, which was intended to allow employees to agree to work additional hours if they so wished. The Commission had reviewed the operation of the Directive and suggested certain amendments. They proposed to retain the opt-out but to tighten up the conditions for its application, so that only genuinely agreed arrangements between employee and employer could continue.
Additionally, the EC wanted to allow Member States to extend reference periods, used to calculate average working weeks, up to 12 months if required to take account of operational realities. The third main proposal was to correct the definition of working time, so that 'inactive' on-call time would not be considered 'working time'
The SNP voted in support of these Commission amendments, plus a Parliament amendment which would have exempted certain key activities, such as emergency, civil protection and security services, from the Directive.
In the final vote MEPs rejected this moderate line, instead calling for the optout to be banned and demanding a significantly tougher application of the rules.
We took the view that Parliamentʼs demands were too strict and inflexible, and would be likely to cause significant problems in Scotland for agriculture, horticulture and other seasonal activities. We support the principle of a 48 hour working week, but take the view that the European Commission's proposals for improving the application of the Directive are, on this occasion, better than the Parliament's.
The stance which we took on this was strongly supported by COSLA, who rightly expressed concerns about the impact on essential public services, such as residential care homes, and on seasonal work such as road repairs and winter maintenance.
Well intended regulation is all too often devalued by strict and inflexible application, as our Road Transport sector has discovered recently, with the cost of working time rules being added to the burden of excessive fuel costs.