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Employment law opt-out in EU negotiations

David Cameron is hoping to opt out of EU employment laws such as the working time directive and the agency workers’ directive as part of his negotiations with leaders ahead of the referendum on EU membership, to be held by 2017.

A key part of the “better deal” the Prime Minister wants to achieve is that Britain’s competitiveness should not be harmed by its continued place in the EU. As things currently stand, whilst larger businesses find inclusion in the EU advantageous due to their access to the common market, smaller businesses often find they are burdened by red tape that harms them and brings unnecessary costs. Cameron has stated his preference for staying in the EU, albeit under renegotiated terms.

One of the chief issues seen to affect the competitiveness of UK businesses is regulation imposed by the EU. The working time directive limits the number of hours that employers can demand employees work per week to 48, as well as making provision for certain allowances of holiday and rest periods between shifts (though exemptions are available for certain professions). The agency workers’ directive ensures that agency workers receive the same pay as permanent employees.

Unions GMB and Unite have said they will oppose attempts to opt out of UK social employment laws, since this is likely to harm employee welfare. However, there is a balance to seek since a “No” vote at the referendum would see the UK leaving the EU, with potentially serious consequences to big business.

Despite sources in Brussels acknowledging that the Prime Minister was seeking such opt-outs, Number 10 stated, “This is just more of the speculation we said there would be during the negotiation. The prime minister has set out the four priority areas for reform and made clear that cutting back on unnecessary EU regulation is part of making Europe more competitive.”
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