Half of Britons resent curbs on working hours

2006

More than half of Britons believe governments should not restrict the number of hours employees can work, with resentment against European working time regulations growing in other European Union countries too.

The European poll for the Financial Times newspaper has suggested there is broad support for the UK's flexible labour laws.

Some 52 per cent of British adults rejected curbs to working hours according to the Financial Times/Harris poll of more than 10,000 people in five European countries – the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The finding, argued the FT, suggested that a majority of voters would have supported the British government's defence of Britain's opt-out from the European working time directive, which allows employees to choose to work longer than the European Union limits of a maximum average working week of 48 hours.

A campaign led by France and Spain to end the opt-out was defeated at the beginning of June when talks collapsed under the Austrian presidency of the EU.

Intriguingly, the poll also found substantial support for greater freedom to work longer hours in Germany and France, countries that traditionally have attracted popular domestic backing for their more protective labour regulations.

High unemployment rates in Germany and France – which have been running at twice the rate of Britain's – and the prospect of losing more jobs to lower-cost eastern European labour markets, have prompted some politicians in those countries to reconsider the benefits of a more flexible approach to labour regulations.

The poll found that some 65 per cent of Germans and 52 per cent of French opposed government restrictions on working hours.

Only the Spanish were out of step, with 72 per cent of the population backing curbs, said the FT.

Overall some 47 per cent of western Europeans opposed restrictions on working hours.

This still left a sizeable minority of 40 per cent who were in favour of controls, pointed out the newspaper.

A third of Britons said the government should have right to restrict working hours.

There were big differences, however, in the attitudes of workers from different countries over their willingness to consider working beyond their normal retirement age.

British employees were most willing, with 72 per cent prepared to work longer compared with only 41 per cent of French workers.