EU proposals 'a bureaucratic nightmare'

Sep 23 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Britain's small businesses have reacted with fury to European Commission proposals to limit the UK's opt-out from the working time directive.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) Chief Executive Nick Goulding said the proposals, which would give unions a veto over accepting working weeks of longer than 48 hours, would impose severe new constraints and significant new costs on small firms already overloaded with regulation.

Under the new rules, employers would be obliged to keep records of the number of hours actually worked and make these records available to the authorities, if required.

"Small businesses are vehemently opposed to these fatally flawed proposals,' he said. "It will fundamentally undermine the flexibility of the British labour market which is entirely different to that of other Member States.

"As its stands a British worker can work more than the 48 hours EU maximum, if they wish, but under these proposals a waiver of the 48 hour rule would have to be agreed with the trade unions. So even if the individual worker wants to work overtime, and earn more cash, the trade unions would be able to veto the opt out.

"Many small businesses on tight profit margins, employing only a few staff, rely on the flexibility of the employment market to make ends meet. This proposal will create massive problems for many small companies."

The Federation of Small Businesses, meanwhile, branded the proposals "a bureaucratic nightmare" that would "force employers to play a nanny role by monitoring the hours worked by their staff".

FPB member Michael Fry, owner of a care home in Weymouth, said the proposals would wreak havoc on his business.

"This proposal is absolute lunacy," he said. "It means that the nurses I employ have to count the hours they spend sleeping here overnight, on call in case of emergency, as hours worked. It will create mayhem to our cost structure and will immediately put jobs at risk.

"But it is elderly people who will shoulder the costs because I will have to increase my charges. This will hit the poorest older people hardest, many of whom will be unable to afford higher charges, and will be left longer in hospital where quality of life and life expectancy is reduced."

Compounding the anger over the EU proposals are the government's plans to extend the rights of working parents, including doubling maternity leave to twelve months and increasing paternity pay.

According to a survey by Croner Consulting, more than six out of ten firms believe that the proposals would have a detrimental effect on their business, with most believing that the current arrangements are more than adequate.

“Smaller employers will be worried about bearing a disproportionate burden from these proposals and will view them with a sense of dread”, said Nick Goulding.

“Employers should be allowed to take stock of these changes without having more pressure piled on them from politicians, most of whom have never created a real job in their life.”

Croner's Richard Smith said: “The survey results aren’t surprising and echo a rising debate of whether employees’ rights are going too far.

"Most employers try to accommodate working parents as best they can, but the law should support the employers need for the work to be done. This is especially true of smaller firms who may find it difficult to bear the costs of recruiting an replacement staff."

Childless workers do not have equivalent rights to time off work and he pointed out that this could also affect productivity by causing conflict in the workplace.

And he added: "Childless workers are likely to become demotivated and disgruntled as they may feel it is unfair that they do not have the same rights to time off work or flexible working. They also face the strain of picking up additional work when parents are absent due to maternity or paternity leave, or to accommodate childcare responsibilities."