Sunday 24 January 2021 / 10:30 PM Business / Ed Miliband

Government considers ripping up right to work no more than a 48-hour week – risking a 15 per cent rise in those working longer hours

Hundreds of thousands of people may be at risk of a longer work week if Ministers scrap their right to refuse to work no more than 48 hours.

The Government’s own analysis found there was a decline in extreme long hours working following the introduction of the 48-hour week. Between 1997 and 2013, the number of employees working more than 48 hours decreased by 15 per cent.

Labour is warning that scrapping the 48-hour week may be the “thin end of the wedge” and risk hours spiralling out of control for hundreds of thousands more workers if a reverse 15 per cent increase occurs.

Under the current rules, employees already have the flexibility to choose to opt-out and work more than 48 hours a week if it is right for them – and it is estimated around 3.4 million in the UK do so. Labour is warning that hundreds of thousands of workers who do not choose to work more than 48 hours a week could see their hours increasing if Ministers push ahead with their plans.

Labour’s analysis has also revealed a number of professions with a proportion of people already working long hours, who may therefore be most at risk of a longer week if the cap is removed:

  • 10% of nursing assistants are working more than 47.60 hours a week
  • 50% of crane drivers are working more than 47.70 hours a week
  • 30% of construction supervisors and 20% of construction workers are working more than 45 hours a week
  • 30% of fork-lift truck drivers are working more than 45 hours a week
  • 10% of plant and machine operatives are working more than 46.40 hours a week
  • 10% of nurses are working more than 42 hours a week
  • 60% of fire service officers are working more than 42 hours a week
  • 20% of ambulance staff are working more than 43.40 hours a week

Those working in some professions, including airline workers and ship workers, are legally unable to work more than 48 hours, with big implications for safety if this is changed.

Labour is forcing a vote in the Commons on Monday to protect the safety limit and the right of employees to refuse to work no more than 48 hours a week.

Ed Miliband MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, said: 

“The 48-hour week is a vital right for workers. Scrapping this hard-won protection would be the thin end of the wedge, causing working hours to spiral up, risking safety and wellbeing, and meaning many people could have less time to spend with their families.

“The future of this right should not even be up for discussion. That Ministers are clapping key workers on the front step and considering forcing a longer working week on them via the back door, shows how seriously out of step their priorities are with those of the British people.

“The Government is also failing to listen to businesses who are urging them to tackle the virus, secure the economy and protect jobs – not take a wrecking ball to the rights of working people. Conservative MPs must keep their promises and vote today in line with the needs of workers and businesses – not rip up their protections.”