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.

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Editorial - Is the crisis really to blame?

Up to September 2011, a new strategy on health and safety at work for 2013-2020 was firmly on the European Commission’s agenda. The only discussion was on what would be in it. The previous strategy was heavy on cutting work accidents and light on occupational health. The scope offered by the REACH Regulation for preventing chemical risks was not on... Find out more

Denis Grégoire

Barroso’s stance on OSH is "A real slap in the face for European workers!"

The European Trade Union Confederation’s May 2011 Congress appointed a new political secretariat. Judith Kirton-Darling inherited the health and safety at work portfolio. Challenges abound as Europe’s top leaders openly come out against health and safety legislation. A united union movement, mobilising the most neglected categories of workers, and... Find out more

Stéphanie Husson, Guillaume Martin

Shopping mall working conditions: social dialogue stalled

The local site union of the Part-Dieu Oxygène shopping centre in Lyons (Rhône-Alpes, France) has for years been pressing centre management to engage a social dialogue on working conditions. So far, neither outlet management nor mall management seem inclined to commit to talks. In such an impasse with no legal compulsion to get talks going, how do... Find out more

Regine Suling

ArcelorMittal global HSC zeroes in on work accidents

Four years ago, steelmaker ArcelorMittal set up a health and safety committee for the entire group worldwide. Its main aim was to cut the accident toll in the 60 countries where it operates. HesaMag got an initial assessment from a workers’ rep on the committee. 26 ArcelorMittal employees or subcontract workers died in accidents across the world in... Find out more

Séverine Picard

Revising the Working Time Directive. A long and winding road

In November 2011, the European social partners notified the European Commission of their plans to start negotiating on working time. They have set a deadline of September 2012 to agree on a revision of the Working Time Directive after an unfruitful five years of discussions by the European institutions. The rocky road travelled shows the enormity... Find out more

The three aspects of time

Intuitively, the economic crisis should have filtered through into a decrease in working time. But surveys show that workers who escaped the mass layoffs are now working more than in 2008. So crisis and work intensification go together. In 1930, the British economist J.M. Keynes wrote an article on the economic prospects for his generation’s... Find out more

Marianne De Troyer

Balancing work and family: women workers walk a tightrope

Even with the changes in society like women’s large-scale labour force participation and narrowing gender gaps, women still shoulder most of the family and household responsibilities. A "double duty" that weighs heavier on those with no option but to work unsocial hours. In 2010, employed women in France spent an average 24 hours a week on... Find out more

Rob Edwards

Sleepless in the North Sea

Work on offshore platforms for oil or gas is an intrinsically dangerous activity. The non-standard hours worked in the industry add to the risk of accidents. But UK courts seem to doubt it. Jake Malloy is angry. Sitting in his cramped and recently flooded office near the docks in Aberdeen, he is talking about his union’s 20-year campaign to reduce... Find out more

Denis Grégoire

The night shift: working against the body clock

With globalization and the expanding service economy, night work is changing from the exception to the rule for many. Driven by the "customer is king" principle, a growing body of employers are forcing employees to work hours that are out of sync with body clocks and life in society. As the case of an express delivery services company shows. The... Find out more

Isabelle Mahiou

French managers and flexitime. How the annual working days system is used and abused

The "annual working days system" for calculating working time came about with the introduction of the 35-hour week in France. It has gone way beyond the "non-office-based managers" originally aimed at and is open to abuse. This means of regulating managers’ individual working time is anything but straightforward, especially when the workload... Find out more

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Paying the price for putting in the hours