Workers 'not forced' to work long hours

May 13 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Most workers in Britian work long hours because they want to, not because they are being forced to, a study has suggested.

The finding comes in the wake of the European Parliament's decision to scrap the UK's opt-out from the EU Working Time Directive, which limits the working week to 48 hours.

That decision has been greeted with fury by employers' groups and, argued the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, does not mesh with the real situation on the ground.

Its survey of 750 long-hours workers found that more than three quarters said they worked longer than 48 hours a week because it was their own choice.

Fewer than a third of the employees polled had signed an opt-out clause at the same time as signing their employment contracts.

And just one in 10 reported that working long hours caused damaging physical effects, although 17 per cent said long hours did cause them stress and mentally health problems.

The CIPD is among employer organisations urging the UK Government to fight hard to retain the opt-out during the next stages of EU negotiations.

CIPD adviser Ben Wilmott said: "We believe that the opt-out should be maintained to give workers the freedom and choice to work the hours they wish, given that employees choose to work long hours in the vast majority of cases."

Abuse of the opt-out was not widespread, he insisted.

"We believe that better enforcement and awareness of legislation and greater access to flexible working beyond the current arrangements are the most effective ways of tackling the health and safety and productivity problems associated with long hours working," said Wilmott.

The CIPD report paints a similar picture to research carried out last year by the Work Foundation which found that much long hours working is voluntary and many people enjoy putting in the time and effort. "Britain's long hours problem is exaggerated", the report said.

Meanwhile, as Ben Wilmott pointed out: "with two-thirds of UK organisations having increased their flexible working provision in the past two years, we believe that the longstanding fall in the working hours of the average UK employee looks set to continue and accelerate."