The European Working Time Directive has been grinding through a painful revision process since 2004. With Council and Parliament not seeing eye to eye, the buck was passed to the European social partners to come up with a proposed way out by September. Labour history shows us that working time has ever been a bone of contention. Workers’ demands for the eight-hour day are a cornerstone of the labour movement. And the polemic around the French-style 35-hour week show that working time is still central to the labour debate.
Organized union action has brought official weekly working hours in Europe down to help preserve workers' health, but has been unable to hold back the tidal wave of flexibilization of working time. Night and weekend work, split shifts, long work days and overtime – or conversely, short hours not by choice – are becoming more common with the expansion of the service economy and new information and communication technologies. No category of workers is being spared – but the lowest-skilled and women are bearing the brunt.