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Labour MEPs vote to abolish Britain's 48-hour opt-out

10 May 2005

Labour MEPs are likely to give prime minister Tony Blair his first bloody nose of his third term in office by voting to abolish Britain's opt-out of the 48-hour working week in Strasbourg tomorrow (11 May).

Despite Blair voicing his support for the opt-out in the Council of Ministers, Labour MEPs have consistently voted against it.

It is widely believed that removing both the individual and the collective agreement opt-outs would strike a huge blow to the catering, tourism and agriculture industries.

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) has contacted all Britain's 78 MEPs in a last ditch effort to save the opt-out.

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the BHA, insisted that industries working 24/7 need the flexibility the opt-out provided to remain competitive. "The more the directive closes that off, the less competitive we become," he said.

Opt-out supporters, including Liberal Democrat and Conservative MEPs, are proposing alternative safeguards to protect workers including a 28-day cooling off period after signing an employment contract and the right to leave with reasonable notice.

The European Parliament's decision will have to be backed by the Committee of Ministers, which sits in June. If not, the two bodies will be encouraged to reach some agreement.

If the opt-out is axed, it will not disappear before 2010.

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