Hospitality staff have finally been given the permanent right to work for more than 48 hours a week if they so wish, after the UK secured a deal to keep its opt-out from the Working Time Directive.
EU member states voted to allow the UK to keep its exemption, which allows employees to work longer than 48 hours a week, following a meeting of European employment ministers yesterday (Monday). However, there will be a review of the opt-out in the next eight years.
Business secretary John Hutton said the agreement, which comes after years of debate over the directive in Brussels, allowed continued flexibility in the UK labour market.
"Flexibility has been critical to our ability to create an extra three million jobs over the past decade," he said. "That flexibility has been preserved by ensuring workers can continue to have choice over their working hours in future years."
The British Hospitality Association said it was "delighted" at the outcome. "It will mean that hospitality workers can continue to work, as they wish, according to the peaks and troughs of demand," a spokesman said. "In a 24-hour, seven day a week industry, flexibility in employment will continue to be a key factor in success."
John Cridland, deputy director-general of employers' group the CBI, also welcomed the announcement.
"After a long battle over many years this agreement secures the individual opt-out from the 48-hour working time limit," he said. "Some countries wanted to deny British workers the right to choose their own working hours, but that attempt has failed and we have retained this key aspect of our flexible labour markets."
An agreement on the rights of agency workers between the Government, union body the TUC and the CBI, was also approved by the EU Employment Council.
The two sides reached a deal last month to give agency workers equal rights as permanent staff after 12 weeks.
By Daniel Thomas
E-mail your comments to Daniel Thomas here.