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Ec Working Time Directive

Volume 205: debated on Tuesday 10 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received from the CBI regarding the draft EC working time directive.

The CBI responded fully to my Department's consultative document on the proposed working time directive. It firmly opposed the Commission's proposals. I fully agree with the CBI that the directive would be a needless strain on United Kingdom competitiveness, and a threat to jobs and earnings.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals, as attacked by civil engineers, would be a restrictive practice and would restrict the flexibility of the construction industry? [Interruption.]

I did not know that my question was so good. Would not the proposals restrict jobs, cause inefficiency and, with the minimum wage proposals, be very damaging to industry?

My hon. Friend is correct. No significant employer representative body in the United Kingdom has done anything other than condemn those irrelevant and damaging proposals very roundly. Her Majesty's Government will continue to fight to persuade our colleagues in the European Community that the proposals are not only unnecessary and unjustifiable, but would be extremely damaging to employment throughout the Community, particularly in the United Kingdom. I thank my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the representations that he has made.

Will the Minister explain why European companies can apparently provide their workers with better conditions in terms of hours and minimum wages than this country's employers? Why is it that European companies do not regard looking after their workers well in terms of hours and wages as destroying competitiveness, but instead see it as a way to obtain good work from their workers? Why is that?

There are two good reasons. First, for many of our European partners, the rules apply on paper but not in practice. They simply do not put into effect the rules that the Community agrees. Secondly, investors from outside the Community, from places such as Japan, the United States and many others, look at the European Community and decide that the United Kingdom is by far the best place in which to invest due to the stability, skills and reliability of our work force. That explanation speaks volumes and answers the hon. Lady's question.