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British workaholics win EU opt out deal

Agency staff granted more equal rights

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The British government today secured landmark European Union agreements that will allow UK citizens to work more than 48 hours a week, and bring temp workers into line with permanent staff.

The compromise deal allows Blighty to opt out from the 1993 EU law on the Working Time directive, which sets the maximum length of the working week at 48 hours.

It’s a move that flies in the face of labour market rules in other EU countries and follows four years of bitter dispute between French and British-led camps on workers’ rights.

"This agreement means that people remain free to earn overtime and businesses can cope during busy times,” said business secretary John Hutton. "Securing the right for people to work longer if they choose to do so is hugely valuable to the British economy.”

The deal follows the UK.gov’s decision, backed by the CBI and the Trade Union Congress, in May to give temporary agency workers the same rights as permanent ones after 12 weeks on the job.

That was a national agreement inked between government, unions, and employer's groups after many months of Britain flatly rejecting original EU proposals that pushed for equal rights for temp workers from day one.

Last month the IT staffing industry howled in protest at the proposed employment legislation overhaul, claiming such an agreement would hamstring smaller firms.

Just last week the Federation of Small Businesses slammed government plans to give agency workers similar rights to full-time staff and described such a deal as being potentially "disastrous" for the UK economy.

Hutton had previously argued that bringing an estimated 1.4 million UK agency workers onto a level playing field with permanent staff over equal pay and holiday entitlement would cost jobs and make workers less competitive.

But today he said the EU’s Agency Worker directive "will give a fair deal for agency workers and prevent unfair undercutting of permanent staff while retaining important flexibility for businesses to hire staff for short-term seasonal contracts or key busy times." ®

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