THE EUROPEAN Working Time Directive was introduced in 1998.
Many workers hoped it would mean the end to backbreaking hours. Britain is the only country that allows workers to sign individual opt-out clauses. Under pressure from the bosses New Labour exempted some groups of workers from the legislation altogether.
These included transport workers, those working on oil rigs in the North Sea, and those in deep sea fishing. It took until 1 August this year to end the exemption, and the opt-out clause still means these workers are caught in the trap of working long hours. Junior doctors will have to wait until 2009 before they are covered by the 48-hour working week law.
Britain's opt-out clause is due to be reviewed next year. Already bosses are lobbying to make sure New Labour keeps it.
They want to continue getting away with low pay to force workers into overtime. John Cridland, deputy general secretary of the CBI bosses' club, defended this 'flexibility' last month, saying, 'Overtime is the icing on the cake for the majority of workers-they love it.'
This is far from the truth, as the bus drivers above argue.
The TUC says that 'the directive has only so far reduced the number of people working long hours in the UK by 3 percent, leaving about four million workers still working more than 48 hours a week'.
British workers have the longest average working week in Europe-some 43.6 hours compared to 40.3 hours in Europe. This average figure hides the fact that some 30 percent of fathers work longer than 48 hours a week.
British workers also have the shortest lunch breaks and get fewer weeks holiday than workers in Europe.