Smith Disappointment at "Naive, Misguided and Muddled" Working Time Vote "Assuredly Will Not do What it Says on the Tin"

17 December 2008
SNP Member of the European Parliament Mr Alyn Smith has today (Wednesday) voiced his frustration at a decision by the Parliament in favour of ending the UK, and hence Scottish, opt out on working time as a short term pyrrhic victory which will only lead to more legal confusion and ultimately a defeat for the Parliament and Europe's workers.

MEPs voted today on a report to redraft elements of the Working Time Directive, parts of which do not apply in the UK and parts of which have been thrown into confusion by recent judgments of the European Court of Justice. Crucially, the SNP Scottish government and Labour UK government agreed that the opt out is necessary to retain the integrity and flexibility of many public services, particularly in rural and island areas. Smith was lobbied extensively by a number of rural organisations, in particular the retained fire-fighters union, who fear that some 321 of Scotland's 391 fire stations will be drastically affected by this decision. NFU Scotland is similarly concerned over the position of farming workers.

An amendment to end the UK opt out in three years was passed by 421 votes to 273. Legally, however, this is not the end of the story, and the entire dossier will now enter into the dreaded "conciliation process" where Smith believes the Member States will ultimately have their way, though only after protracted negotiations and continued legal uncertainty for Europe's workers when a workable compromise was on the table today but rejected.

Smith said:

"This is a naive, misguided and muddled decision by the Parliament today, and it will not help Europe's workers. Quite the reverse, it will create more legal confusion, another few years of poisonous wrangling in the Council of Ministers and the vote will be overturned.

"This is a poor bit of posturing on the part of some MEPs trying to hoodwink the people that this is somehow a victory for the rights of workers. We could have approved a workable compromise today but have instead plunged the entire dossier into renewed confusion which serves nobody. It is rare I find myself in total agreement with the UK government but when I do, as does my own government in Scotland, I'll work with them.

"I fundamentally disagree that working time should be regulated across 27 different states from the Algarve to the Arctic Circle, and many of my difficulties with this dossier stem from that. The impact of this decision, if actually implemented, would be quite unworkable for vast swathes of my country without inflicting massive expense upon already economically fragile areas. It might look good in a centrally heated Brussels office but it assuredly will not do what it says on the tin."