Europeans ‘more industrious than their reputation’

Europeans work on average much more than either collectively bargained agreements foresee and in many cases even more than the law allows, a new study by the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) reveals.

EIRO, the research institute of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, conducted the research in the 25 EU countries, accession countries Romania and Bulgaria and in Norway, in 2005. It produced figures on working time as laid down in collective agreements and in the law, as well as on time actually worked. 


Source: EIRO  /  Graph:

Some of the report’s key findings concerning weekly working time are: 

  • In all EU countries, workers put inlonger hours than collectively bargained between employers and trade unions. The record is held by the Dutch and the Germans, who work on average 4.6 hours more per week than their respective country’s collective bargaining agreements foresee;
  • in 9 EU countries (4 ‘old’ and 5 new ones), the average worker works even more than the statutory maximum working time per week. Slovenians work 3.3 hours more per week than the law in their country allows, Latvians even 3.7 hours;
  • ‘new’ EU workers are even more laborious than their colleagues in the ‘old’ member states. EU-10 citizens worked on average 41.9 hours a week, as compared to 40.8 hours in the EU-15, and;
  • 14 member states have statutory maximum weeks of 48 hours, along the lines of the EU working time directive. This has no positive influence on time actually worked, however. Workers in countries with a 48-hour limit worked on average 41.3 hours a week, those in countries with 38 to 40 hour limits worked 41.55 hours – 15 minutes longer. 

The researchers also looked at overtime worked in EU countries. They found that: 

  • Workers in Finland doing overtime worked on average 7.8 hours more per week in 2005 than stipulated in their contracts;
  • overtime workers in Hungary worked an average 10.1 hours more per week than foreseen;
  • in Malta, that figure was even 13.0 hours during the first half of 2005;
  • also in 2005, all employees in Germany jointly worked an estimated 1.439 billion hours overtime;
  • in Italy, overtime hours made up 5.5% of all hours worked, and;
  • in Spain, the average number of hours of overtime worked per worker per week was 5.9 hours in 2004. 

Looking at paid leave, the researchers found that: 

  • The average collectively agreed annual paid leave varies between 20 days in Slovenia and Cyprus and 33 days in Sweden; 
  • Half of the new member states and three old ones (Belgium, Ireland and Spain) do not have collective agreements on annual paid leave;
  • Only nine member states (eight ‘old’ and one ‘new’) have statutory paid leave exceeding the working time directive’s requirement of four weeks per year, and;
  • The average entitlement across the former EU15 countries and Norway stands at 26.8 days, showing a slight increase every year since 2000 when it was 25.6 days.



Source: EIRO  /  Graph:

Economists and politicians argue about the influence that the EU's strict rules on working time have on the bloc's competitiveness. New research suggests that the influence may be smaller than was thought, because the rules are not being respected anyway.

  • On 7 September 2006, the EU Court of Justice condemned the United Kingdom for improper implementation of the working-time directive. The Court ruled that the UK's guidelines do not include measures necessary to make sure employers comply with the directive's rules for minimum rest periods of 11 hours per 24 hour period and 24 hours without interruption per seven-day period. 
  • At the end of August 2006, it became known that the Commission's DG Transport is preparing Court cases against nine member states (Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain) for failing to notify the Commission of the implemententation of working time regulations in the transport sector in national law. These provisions for sectors which were brought under the working-time directive as part of a 2000 amendment (air, rail, road, sea, inland waterway and lake transport, sea fishing and other work at sea) had to be implemented by member states by 1 August 2003. 

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