Earlier this year, the Trade Union Congress (“TUC”) published a report detailing the effects of Britain’s long hours culture on the health of our workforce, but how does Britain compare to other countries?

Country                       Average full-time employee hours 2018

UK                                42

Italy                             39

France                        39.1

Ireland                        39.4

Germany                    40.2

TUC General Secretary Francis O’Grady, notes that working longer hours do not equate to greater productivity:

“Britain’s long hours culture is nothing to be proud of. 

It’s robbing workers of a decent home life and time with their loved ones. Overwork, stress and exhaustion have become the new normal. 

It’s time for a change. Other countries have shown that reducing working hours isn’t only good for workers, it can boost productivity.

As new technology changes our economy, the benefits should be shared by working people. That means shorter hours, more time with family and friends, and decent pay for everyone.”

A BBC article published last week noted that working long hours can lead to mental illness, rising blood pressure, stress and sleep deprivation amongst other illness.

What’s the legal situation? 

The rights of workers’ in Britain are safeguarded under the European Union’s Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”). Until the introduction of the WTR, workers’ hours were largely unregulated. However, since its introduction, the WTR has limited working hours and it has now provided rest breaks and holiday (with some exceptions). The current limit to working hours a week is 48 hours averaged over 17 weeks.

All workers are covered by the WTR but certain groups are exempted, including:

  • Workers from particular sectors
  • Workers who have “opted out” of the 48-hour week
  • Workers with unmeasured times (i.e. autonomous decision-makers such as managing executives)
  • Young workers

How can employees opt out of the 48-hour week?

Employers are required to obtain the worker’s agreement in writing by workers can cancel the opt-out agreement by giving 7 days’ notice unless the opt-out agreement states otherwise (but this cannot be more than 3 months).

Beware, even if a workers has opted out, employers should:

  • Keep records covering the last two years to show which workers have entered into opt-out agreements.
  • Make sure the opt-out agreement specifies that the worker agrees to disapply the statutory 48-hour limit. The opt-out agreement should also specify the worker’s new working hours.
  • Make sure you do not allow workers to work excessive hours if creates risk to his/her health and safety.

With Brexit looming, we may face a period of uncertainty as we wait to see the likely effect it will have on workers’ weekly hours