05 MARCH 2003

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Overtime opt-out clause will not expire in November says EU Commission

By Kurt Sansone

A spokesman for EU employment commissioner Anna Diamantopulo yesterday confirmed that the opt-out clause, which gives employees the right to work more than 48-hours per week including overtime, is an integral part of the EU Working Time Directive and it is not reserved for any particular member state.
This means that, upon membership, Maltese workers would still be able to work more than an average of 48 hours per week if they choose to do so.
Talking to The Malta Financial and Business Times, Andrew Fielding, press officer for Commissioner Diamantopulo, denied that the opt-out clause would expire by November this year as reported by Labour Party-owned maltastar.com on Monday.
Fielding explained that the scope of the Working Time directive was to confer more rights on workers. However, the part of the directive that has raised concern in overtime-crazy Malta is Article six. It states that no employee could be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours a week.
Nonetheless, Article 18 of the directive gives member states the right to opt-out of Article six as long as they adopt certain conditions. One of the conditions says that workers would have to give their consent before the employer requires them to work more than 48 hours.
Fielding did say that the directive would be subjected to close scrutiny by the Commission to find out how it has been implemented.
"The Commission is expected to draw up a report to find out how the directive was implemented by the member states, particularly how the opt-out clause was used. The policy paper, which may include some revisions would then be submitted to the Council of Ministers for eventual approval," Fielding explained.
No date has yet been set for the conclusion of the Commission report although it is expected to be out before the summer.
Fielding said that changes made by the Council of Ministers to the Working Time directive would be carried by qualified majority voting.
Meanwhile, contacted yesterday, Malta-EU Information Head Simon Busuttil reiterated that the report carried by maltastar.com was not correct.
The maltastar.com report quoted an unnamed British Trade Union Council official as saying that the opt-out clause, Article 18, would expire in November 2003.
"This is absolutely not the case and people can read the directive to see for themselves that a member state has the right to opt-out of the 48 hour limit as long as employers first obtain the worker’s agreement to perform such duty."

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