The Working Time Regulations implement the European Working Time Directive and parts of the Young Workers Directive.
The regulations entitle workers to an average 48-hour week, four weeks paid annual holiday, rest breaks, health assessments for night workers and a maximum of 8 hours work in any 24 on average in which night workers can be required to work. Agency workers should enjoy the same rights as those employed directly.
When the regulations were first introduced in 1998, certain sectors were excluded because it was agreed that they required their own special rules and would need more time to review their working practices. Following consultation, five measures to extend the Working Time Regulations to these sectors have now been adopted.
As of 1 August 2003, the working time measures apply in full to all non-mobile workers (e.g. clerical and administrative staff) in the following sectors: road; sea; inland waterways and lake transport; railway; offshore; and all aviation workers not covered by the sector specific Aviation Directive. Mobile workers in road transport have more limited protections depending on whether or not they are subject to European Drivers Hours Regulations 3820/85.
The provisions of the Working Time Regulations will apply to junior doctors from 1 August 2004, but with implementation of the 48-hour week phased in over time. The directive makes no allowance for the fact that Britain has half the European average number of doctors per 1,000 population. The Royal College of Physicians has called for implementation of the directive to be delayed to allow more doctors to be recruited, but ministers have so far ruled this out.
Under the regulations as they stand, there is an opt-out provision allowing UK workers to waive their rights under the directive and to work longer than 48 hours a week if they wish to do so. This provision is currently under consultation by the European Commission, which has expressed concern that UK bosses are abusing the opt-out by compelling employees to work long hours. The Commission is of the view that asking a worker to sign an opt-out agreement at the same time as they sign their contract of employment undermines the worker's freedom of choice. Consultation ends on 31 March 2004.