The Government has come under fire for suggestions it wants to scrap the Working Time Directive, the EU rule which restricts the working week to 48 hours and protects other employment rights.
Stories in the Sunday newspapers signalled getting rid of the Brussels edict that proponents say protect everything from holidays to rest breaks would be one of the benefits of quitting the EU.
After a hailstorm of criticism from unions and the Labour Party, Theresa May refused to explicitly rule out abolishing the Working Time Directive (WTD).
The directive has for years been derided by Tory eurosceptics who argue it hinders economic growth, but many others think the protection it offers staff would not be replicated.
What do the rules say?
Introduced in 1993 to regulate the amount of time spent at work in order to protect the health and safety of the European workforce, the WTD provides a:
* 48-hour limit on average weekly working time. A 26-week average is used for some sectors, including hospitals * Employees who want to do so can simply sign a written opt-out * 48-hour average limit on nightwork. In the case of dangerous work, the limit is understandably tighter, applying to a single week without averaging * Right to annual free health check for night-workers * One day off a week, or two days off a fortnight * 11 hours rest between working days * 20 minutes break if the working day is longer than six hours * 4 weeks paid annual leave
What do the trade unions say?
The TUC has led the condemnation of the possible loss of workers rights, claiming the directive could mean seven million workers could lose rights to paid holidays – 4.7 million of them women, and many on zero-hours or part-time contracts.
It says the move could also lead to more workers being forced by bosses to work weeks longer than 48 hours and that workers could lose the right to lunch and rest breaks.
Tim Roache, General Secretary of the GMB union, which represents more than 600,000 workers in the public and private sectors, said: “What plotting Tory MPs and Ministers really want is to give more control to bosses and less to workers.
“They want an excuse to scrap laws that limit the number of hours people can work, next up will be trying to remove rights to paid holidays and breaks.”
He added: “Brexit cannot and must not be used as a Trojan horse to make work even more insecure – that’s not what people voted for.”
What do critics of the directive say?
Eurosceptics have for years been critical of the directive as a bureaucratic burden on business, while also restricting doctors from caring for patients.
The long war waged by Tories against this element of the EU’s ‘social chapter’ saw the party win an opt-out in 1993, but Labour MEPs voted to end the UK’s right to break the limit in 2003.
“The weight of employment regulation is now back-breaking,” Foreign Secretary and Brexiteer Boris Johnson said in 2014, epitomising the Conservative Party’s attitude.
“The collective redundancies directive, the atypical workers directive, the working time directive and a thousand more.”
More often than not, critics say the directive should be replaced by a more ‘flexible’ alternative enshrined on British law.
When the Sun on Sunday reported the prospect of the WTD going, it pointed to industries no longer having to spend billions on agency staff and families earning more by working longer hours.
Others point to with the UK ‘taking back control’, and offering more generous protections. As it stands, Britain has gone further than the WTD stipulations by raising holiday entitlement to more than five weeks.