According to a recent report, a striking gap in working time continues to exist between countries that joined the EU after 2004 and the other 15 members. Among those working longer hours, Bulgaria, Romania and the UK are well ahead of their European neighbours.
The average agreed weekly working time currently stands at 38.6 hours for the whole of the EU, according to Eurofound’s European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO).
But if one considers the EU 15 alone, rates have fallen to just 37.9 hours – two hours less than the 39.6 hour week put in by workers in the EU’s 12 new members.
As for full-time workers, Bulgarians and Romanians emerge as the hardest working, clocking up 41.7 hours per week.
The UK comes a close third, with its citizens working an average of 41.4 hours. This could be a result of the country’s opt-out from the EU’s ‘Working Time Directive’ that caps the working week at 48 hours.
Indeed, the opt-out enables British citizens to work for up to 65 hours per week, althouh the Socialist Group in Parliament has vowed to contest this, arguing that it breaks “health and safety law”.
Full-time workers in France, Italy and Denmark are those putting in the least hours. Indeed, the French spend just 37.7 hours at work, leaving them the equivalent of a whole afternoon off each week.
France is in fact a record breaker as far as working time reductions are concerned. It has cut weekly working time by four hours over the past nine years, far ahead of Luxembourg (1 hour), the UK (1.1 hours), Portugal (1.2 hours) and Sweden (2.5 hours).
This tendency to work less would appear to contradict EU recommendations to speed up labour market reforms and get people to work longer so as to face up to the pressures of globalisation and deal with the demographic challenges facing the continent.
Nevertheless, even in France – seen as one of the EU’s most rigid models and where trade unions have been actively opposing reforms – change does appear to be taking place.
Indeed, in July, the French Senate approved a law to extend the compulsory cap of 35 working hours per week to boost the country’s economic competitiveness.