We reported on Monday that Conservative MEPs were battling to save Britain's opt-out from the Working Time Directive.
MEPs have voted to scrap the opt-out. There will now be a period of conciliation between the parliament and the Council of Ministers, which currently supports the opt-out. Philip Bushill-Matthews, the Tory employment spokesman, comments:
"Socialist MEPs have won the batlle today, but they must not be allowed to win the war.
The British government must dig in and defend the opt-out. 15 EU nations now take advantage of the flexibility provided by the opt-out and none of them should back down.
It should never be the place of the European Parliament to tell people they cannot work - particularly during a downturn. Scrapping our Working Time opt-out is even more nonsensical in today's economic climate than ever before.
This is a double failure of Gordon Brown. Not only has he failed to control his MEPs, but he also naively signed up to a package deal that saw Britain give ground on the Agency Workers Directive in exchange for our Working Time opt-out. His folly was to assume the Left in the European Parliament would not sabotage the deal. British businesses have been given two damaging pieces of employment legislation for the price of one."
Once again I feel bound to pose the following question. Would it really be so terrible if Gordon Brown announced that the UK will act unilaterally? The last thing we need at this time is the Working Time Directive.
I believe that the European Union would soon learn to get over it if the Prime Minister said that this was non-negotiable.
Martin Callanan, MEP for the North East, has written elsewhere on ConservativeHome about the Working Time Directive today. His colleague Philip Bushill-Matthews, Conservative employment spokesman in the European Parliament, has issued a press release.
Labour MEPs oppose the UK's opt-out from the Directive. On Wednesday MEPs will vote on whether to scrap the opt-out. Doing so would require at least 393 MEPs to vote for its abolition. Mr Bushill-Matthews comments in advance of a debate this evening:
"Britain needs the opt-out more than ever.
We will be working up to the last minute to win support for workers' rights to choose their hours, rather than having them dictated by socialists who claim to represent them.
Labour MEPs must now back British businesses and workers, who are struggling to make ends meet. Many people choose to work longer hours to provide a better life for themselves and their families, and politicians should be helping them rather than getting in the way.
Gordon Brown must read his MEPs the riot act this week - before it is too late."
It may seem counter-intuitive or even slippery for Mr Bushill-Matthews to couch his position as one supportive of workers' rights. But whilst the work/life balance matters hugely, he is right that restrictions imposed from above (and elsewhere, as it's an EU Directive) are not helpful. This is all the more important in the current economic climate.
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