EU Working Time Rules Could Close One Third Of Care Homes

23 February 2009
SNP Member of the European Parliament Mr Alyn Smith has today (Monday) expressed his fear that a third of Scottish care homes could close if proposals on working time currently under discussion in Brussels do not reach a workable conclusion.

He has been working on the potential impact of the European Working Time Directive on local services in Scotland, and called on fellow MEPs to see sense in negotiations currently underway in Brussels.

The Scottish and UK governments have a common position on the Working Time Directive, which is in favour of the retention of the UK opt out from the rules. The majority of MEPs rejected this position in a vote last month, throwing working time negotiations into the "Conciliation Process" currently underway in Brussels. In that vote, the SNP and Conservative MEPs voted for the Scottish government position, the Scottish Lib Dem and Labour MEPs voted to reject it. The negotiations now underway must reach a conclusion by April or the whole issue will collapse and the legally uncertain status quo will remain in place for at least another 2 years.

Speaking from Inverness, Smith said:

"Much attention has been paid to the topic of retained fire fighters over this issue, and rightly so, but the Working Time Directive will impact upon many, many more services than that.

"By my rough working, I calculate that about a third of care homes for old folk and vulnerable youngsters could close if these proposals on working time are implemented as they stand. One care home has calculated that the new rules would add some £265,000 to their annual running costs, which would either be met by the taxpayer or force them to close altogether. That is one care home out of thousands upon thousands.

"This reduction in coverage would be disastrous, and would put those most vulnerable at risk. Similarly, the impact on social work and the protection of the vulnerable will be massively affected. It would be unconscionable if councils across Scotland had to withdraw out-of-hours crisis services because of working time legislation, but these are the sort of options now under consideration.

"The information I am receiving from local government across Scotland is that the Working Time proposals are not just expensive, they are simply impossible. The negotiations currently underway in Brussels are crucial, and I hope that other MEPs will see sense and ditch the dogmatic and naïve vote of last month and compromise on a reasonable outcome.

"Nobody would for a second suggest that working time should not be regulated, but I do not believe it should be regulated at EU level because the legislation is essentially designed for office workers doing 9 to 5 jobs, yet the services in the firing line are considerably more complex and the legislation does not fit reality.

"This issue is far from done and dusted, but the clock is ticking and the potential consequences are pretty awful."