The European Union’s Working Time Directive says that employers cannot ask people to work for more than 48 hours a week, but the UK won the right to opt out of that provision. EU authorities have been discussing whether or not to extend the 15-year exemption.
The Government believes that the opt-out makes the UK economy more productive. Think tank Open Europe has said that ending the opt-out would cost the UK £57bn between now and 2020, more than £2,300 per household.
First, note the time period. That’s 11 years, so what we’re actually talking about is about 200 pounds/euros (they’re currently close enough to parity) a year for the privilege of never being forced to work more than 48 hours a week. I might be willing to go for that.
Next, read the rest of the details: this isn’t an any given week thing, it’s measured over 17 weeks. So as long as your boss forces you to work no more than 2500 hours a year, they can parcel things out pretty much however they want. anyone who wants to work more than 48 hours a week can still choose to do it, it’s just that their bosses can’t discipline or fire them if they won’t. 40-hour weeks most of the year with 100-hour weeks for a month and a half of crunch time? No problem.
Oh, and of course nothing stops people from working more than 48 hours a week “voluntarily”. But somehow british bosses seem to think they just can’t do (their economy has been such a success, after all) without a touch of the whip.