Business – Threat to work hours opt-out

Accountants have been warned that provisions in European working time regulations that allow employees to opt out of the 48 hour maximum working week could soon disappear.

Speaking at last week’s UK 200 Group spring conference, solicitor Kerry Underwood, of law firm Underwoods, predicted the opt-out provisions would soon be withdrawn.

A number of accountancy firms, including Arthur Andersen, have taken advantage of the provisions by asking staff to sign forms giving up their rights to be protected by the working time rules, which came into force last October.

Underwood said ministers were increasingly looking at working hours as a health and safety issue. He warned that the government may initially set an average working week maximum at around 60 hours, which could affect accountants working for themselves.

He warned that these rules were likely to present a more serious problem to business than the recent minimum wage legislation.

His comments came as trade secretary Stephen Byers admitted that the working time rules were cumbersome.

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