In relaunching the issue, the European Commission could pave the way for European social partners to find an agreement. Changes to the existing rules are foreseen, with workers representatives most critical of the current legislation. In revising the Directive, employers are eager for what they call a necessary transition to flexibility.
Opt-outs, reference periods and on-call times risk being watered down to the detriment of workers’ health and wellbeing. Will this be avoided by proper inclusion of workers in the legislative process or will employers get what they want? Where will the European institutions stand on the issue? These were the questions posed for panelists during the debate.
Welcoming words and a short overview of the state of play of the Working Time Directive were offered by Friedrich von Heusinger, Director of the representation of the of State of Hesse to the EU. CESI’s President Romain Wolff then took the opportunity to underline CESI’s position: there are certain risks to revising the Working Time Directive, but revision must only result in improved working conditions, not a step backwards. The cautious approach set the tone for the event.
To present the facts and figures surrounding the debate, Greet Vermeylen, representing Eurofound, framed the discussion by presenting the working conditions survey. The survey demonstrates how it is becoming more and more difficult to understand and define what working time means. New technologies mean the distinction between working time and private life is more and more blurred. This presents both advantages and disadvantages for the worker. Ms Vermeylen suggested looking more at how workers perceive working time, an exercise to be carried out by Eurofound in 2015.
Maxime Cerutti from BusinessEurope was not optimistic about the prospect of any future proposal, not seeing much possibility of legislation being agreed, first within the legislative process and then between social partners. The original directive was established in a very different EU from that of today, a far more homogeneous EU. For Mr Cerutti, even in 1993 the directive created many legal frameworks and offered many different interpretations in its implementation. In light of these facts, any overhaul was assessed as politically unlikely.
Birgit Sippel MEP looked at the broader picture, highlighting the fact that working time is only part of improving working conditions. Any revision, in Ms Sippel’s view, needs to be done together, with the Commission and the Parliament showing strong leadership. Addressing the issue how working time can be organised, Ms Sippel also refuted that workers are opposed to flexibility: workers simply want to be involved in the decision-making process through real and constructive social dialogue. The issue with flexibility for Ms Sippel is that it is only ever discussed in the context of employers, rarely with regard to employees.
From the komba trade union, Eckhard Schwill offered the unionist perspective. For Mr Schwill, the working environment is continually evolving with changes in the way we work posing big challenges to working conditions and working time. Mr Schwill did not hold high hopes in the Commission attempting to tackle the hot topic of working time. In this area, in his opinion, social partners are also too opposed to see changes introduced in revising the working time directive.
The debate was moderated by Peter Riesbeck from the Frankfurter Rundschau.