British people work the longest hours in Europe, yet due to stress and fatigue, productivity is one of the lowest. With levels falling far behind France, Britain's long hours culture is seriously threatening our physical and mental health.
The warning comes, on the eve of 'Work Your Proper Hours Day', as UK Green MEP, Jean Lambert, launches her new report 'I must work harder? Britain and the Working Time Directive,'
Jean Lambert, Vice-Chair of the Green Group in the European Parliament and co-ordinator of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, has called on the UK Government to end the opt-out and opt in to a healthier, safer workforce. Jean commented; "Britain's long hours culture has encroached on our society through the British opt-out in the Working Time Directive, the only EU country to adopt such a clause. It's not just our opportunities for a social and family life that has been eroded but we are now seeing record levels of employee sick leave due to long hours and stress.
"Sadly the British work culture is such that stress is seen as a weakness and so instead of being treated, gets worse, costing both the individual and business. Indirect causes of long hours such as tiredness on the roads are particularly damaging. Symptoms of stress and fatigue are often worse than being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"The Health and Media industries, where long assignments and intensive work is often needed, are currently very worrying. 80% of media employees work overtime and 16% have visited a GP because of stress, which they attribute to deadlines and pressures of work."
Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London - the region where people work the most excessive hours, is concerned that many do not truly 'opt-out' but sign away their right to a cap on their working hours under pressure or do not know they can refuse. The Greens simply argue that the UK adheres to a maximum 48-hour week and, where intensive work has occurred, the employee is given compensatory rest through time off.
"We want fair hours for fair pay. The UK Government talks about vision but it is clear to me that without focus on the prevention of ill health, shortsighted policies will result in the public sector picking up the bill once again. It is time the Government accepted that long hours are simply damaging our health, innovation and economy. We have to protect the UK's workforce by getting rid of the opt out and regulating the working week," Jean concluded.
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Notes to editors:
Jean Lambert: In October 2005 Jean was named MEP 2005 for Justice and Human Rights. Jean was first elected Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London in the 1999 European elections. She was re-elected in 2004. She is one of nine MEPs representing London and one of two UK Green representatives in the European Parliament.
I Must Work Harder? Britain and the Working Time Directive: Copies of the report can be downloaded from www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk
Levels of productivity: The UK's productivity performance, on a Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) per workers basis is lower than France. (France works
to a maximum 35 hour week.)
UK = 100 GDP per worker
France = 150 GDP per worker