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Do shorter working hours harm firms or boost productivity?

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<b>The European Commission will review a workers right to opt out of the weekly limit of 48 hours, set out in the working time directive. The CBI is campaigning for the opt-out to be maintained. Others are concerned about a long hours culture. By Stefan Stern</b>

Paul Sellers, policy officer, TUC


We see the working time directive as a useful piece of legislation, set in the context of health and safety. We dont think it would be wise to opt out of other health and safety laws, so why should we opt out of this one? Why ignore a speed limit that is there to protect your wellbeing?


There is some evidence that people can be bullied into working longer hours when they dont want to, and the directive provides some protection against that. There is the question of overtime, and whether we are working against members interests. But the labour force survey shows that many people would happily work fewer hours in general, and some would even accept a pay cut in return for fewer hours.


Long hours are the enemy of productivity. We are working the longest hours in Europe in this country, but our productivity is only 80% of the European average. We should be thinking about work organisation, training and investment, rather than making people put in longer hours at work.


Clare Hinkley, policy adviser, CBI


We have been lobbying for the retention of the opt-out. Of course we are in favour of minimum standards. Employees should be able to say no to long hours. There should be holidays and breaks as outlined in the directive. But for career reasons, and financial reasons, people should be able to choose to work longer hours if they want to.


The business case is that the option to work longer hours gives you important flexibility, allowing you to respond to peaks and troughs in demand. Thats important for all sectors in the economy.


Losing the opt-out might exacerbate skills shortages. If you lose skilled technicians and cant replace them, you either fail to fulfil contracts or have to hire more staff, if they are available. There is a perception that long hours have been connected to accidents in the workplace, but no link has been made.


We think best practice is the way to encourage change, not legislation. Presenteesim does not help productivity, and we agree it is output and not hours that count. But people should be free to choose how long they work.


Clive Bridge, general manager, HR and business administration, Toyota UK


Working time is an issue we take seriously. We launched two new models this year and last, and we have to respond to the demand for these cars in the European market. We are moving to a new three-shift pattern, which effectively starts at 6am on Monday and runs through to 6am on Saturday. We will be raising our production from 220,000 cars a year to 270,000.


Working with our union, Amicus, we try to find ways to reduce the need for overtime. But we also have the strong objective of maintaining job security. Overtime does allow us to respond flexibly it is a vital tool in protecting job security. It avoids unnecessary hiring during peaks, only to let people go later.


Restriction on working time does have an impact on our use of overtime. We track individuals hours stringently and look to achieve a fair balance across the workforce. It might mean that on occasion we ask someone who has done a lot of overtime to do a bit less, and someone who has done less to do a bit more. But the principles get discussed thoroughly with our representatives.