The care home sector will be set for a shake-up if the European
Union ends the option for UK staff to work more than 48 hours a
The European working time directive states a maximum working week,
(averaged out over a year), should be 48 hours. Currently, UK staff
can opt out and work for longer if they and their employer
Last month MEPs voted to phase out the opt-out over three years.
Tony Blair has promised to fight to keep it. EU employment
ministers meet on 3 June to discuss the issue again.
The arguments for and against the move are polarised: unions say
UK workers already clock up the longest hours in Europe and are
coerced into working longer because of fears they will lose their
jobs. Employers’ groups believe it will take away vital
flexibility, and will increase overheads.
The Employers’ Organisation for local government last year
surveyed social services directors on what impact scrapping the
opt-out would have. It found that in some areas it would be minimal
while in others it could be “very significant”.
Heads of the main care home associations say its impact will be
felt in the sector.
Sheila Scott, chief executive of the National Care Homes
Association, says most employers agree that 48 hours’ work a week
is enough and that those who worked long hours one week wouldn’t
However, she believes problems will arise where care home staff
have more than one job.
“People working in the NHS do shifts in care homes to get extra
money. You can’t keep track of that. We will have to look at
employers’ legal responsibilities,” she says.
Scott adds that she will be advising members to put the onus on
recruitment agencies to keep tabs on how many hours agency staff
Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care
Association, believes the workforce shortage in the sector would be
exacerbated by the change. “You can’t provide the same levels of
care without more staff. It’s not only about paying for more staff
but we’ll also have to increase our investment in training.”
But Frank Ursell, head of the Registered Nursing Home
Association, says the main losers will be employees who will miss
out on overtime. “People who are working more than 48 hours are
doing it because they want to earn more.”