HC Deb 05 February 1998 vol 305 cc1222-3
19. Mrs. Humble

If she will make a statement about the implementation of the working time directive. [25704]

Mr. Ian McCartney

Our aim is to publish draft regulations, for consultation, around the end of March and complete the consultation in time to have regulations in force by 1 October.

Mrs. Humble

Does my hon. Friend agree that this directive is a sensible and flexible measure which introduces minimum standards that already apply in Europe? Will he share my hope that the Opposition will stop scaremongering about the impact of the directive and recognise that British workers deserve the same rights as workers in the rest of Europe?

Mr. McCartney

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. For the first time in Britain, some 2.5 million low-paid workers will be entitled to paid holidays. Millions of other workers will gain the right to consultation with their employers before being forced to work unsociable, unhealthy and long hours. Some employees—mainly low-paid workers—work 80 or 90 hours a week on some occasions. The directive will give them minimum standards and protection and the ability to negotiate with their company a sensible package in terms of their working hours and the right to paid holiday leave.

Mr. Page

In view of the vital contribution made to our economy by the offshore industry, what guarantees will be given to that industry that it will be protected from this measure? I ask the Minister because the Government have given up the protection of Maastricht and embraced the social chapter.

Mr. McCartney

The current directive excludes that industry, which is playing a part in the discussions about the further extensions of the directive. The industry is committed to high standards of employment practice. It will work with the Government and the European Commission to ensure that, whatever arrangements are put in place, it will remain at the forefront in terms of high standards of employment and conditions.