18 May 2005

The Web

Attard Montalto offers hazy explanation

Matthew Vella

Labour MEP John Attard Montalto (PES) went to great lengths yesterday in a bid to explain his abstaining tactic at last week’s vote in the European Parliament’s plenary over the Working Time Directive and its controversial removal of the opt-out clause.
Attard Montalto, abstaining on 16 amendments and the final resolution on the Cercas report proposing the removal of the opt-out clause, was yesterday meeting with the Federation of Industry when he was queried by journalists on his voting decisions.
He attempted to patch up his unclear stand on the issue by saying he had abstained because there was still more discussion to be had between the social partners and the EP committees on the issue.
The Labour MEP was the only one out of the five Maltese MEPs to abstain on the vote for the Cercas report, which proposes to remove the opt-out clause, even though all MEPs had apparently agreed to vote in unison against the report.
Yesterday Attard Montalto said he would vote for the retention of the opt-out option for the Maltese islands, despite not offering a clear reason for abstaining on the Cercas report.

Spending an entire thirty minutes to explain the development of the debate on the controversial Working-Time Directive, the Labour MEP paid lip service to the Party of European Socialists’ support of the Cercas report to safeguard workers’ rights.
However, he said he would support the retention of the opt-out clause, which allows workers to work more than the maximum 40-hour week and eight-hour overtime limit, since it was important for “Malta’s social and industrial development.”
Socialists, greens and communists voted overwhelmingly for the opt-out clause to be removed. All Maltese MEPs, including socialist MEPs save Attard Montalto, voted against the report which proposed the removal of the opt-out clause.
Attard Montalto however said he had voted against amendment 7 to the European Commission text on the opt-out clause, which called for the removal of the clause since it is in flagrant contradiction with the fundamental principles of the protection of health and safety and contradicts evidence that unlimited working time poses serious risks to workers’ health and safety.
All Maltese MEPs voted against this proposal.
FOI President Adrian Bajada interjected with sparse comments on his disagreement with the Cercas report’s proposition to remove the opt-out clause.
One of his bones of contention was the proposal to have Member States ensure employers inform workers of any changes in working time patterns at least four weeks in advance. Bajada complained about the length of time required.
Attard Montalto, who pointed out the amendment was “good in principle”, soon appeared to appease Bajada by saying he would consider an amendment in the industry committee he sits on.
Asked by The Malta Financial and Business Times what his clear stand on the issue was, given that his idea sounded opportunistic at the moment, Attard Montalto said that “after talking to the stakeholders about each amendment” he would possibly table an amendment on the issue.
He explained that listening to stakeholders was the way his future voting decisions would be informed.


The Working Time Directive

What is the working time directive?
The directive is a European Union initiative designed to protect workers from exploitation by employers. It lays down regulations on matters such as how many breaks employees can take, and how much holiday they are entitled to.
Most important however is the main rule that limits working time for employees in the EU to 48 hours a week, inclusive of eight hours overtime.

What is the opt-out clause?
The opt-out means that workers can put in more than an average working week of 48 hours if they have agreed to do so with employers.
Last week, the European Parliament voted to remove the opt-out clause. Anna Diamantopoulou, a former European employment commissioner, has said UK companies could be guilty of abusing the opt-out and forcing staff to work longer hours. Unions say more than 3 million men in the UK work more than 49 hours a week, almost one in four of the male workforce.

Is the opt-out likely to come to an end?
The European Union has consulted on whether the opt-out should remain and is likely to announce a decision on its future in late September. The EU has outlined four options for the future of the opt-out: (i) Phasing out of the opt-out (ii) Alleged abuse by employers clamped down upon (iii) Opt-out only allowed following an agreement between employers and unions or the workforce as a whole (iv) Individual employees can continue to put in more than an average working week of 48 hours if they have agreed to do so with employers.

Sources: BBC News, Europa

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