A massive 78 per cent of private and public sector businesses believe that the UK's current 48-hour opt-out provision from the Working Time Directive should continue, a survey has revealed

The survey by the Em-ployment Lawyers Association (ELA) and Personnel Today found that, of those employers currently using the opt-out, 71 per cent believe removing it would adversely affect the competitiveness of their businesses.

The EU Working Time Directive limits the working week to 48 hours in other EU member states, but the UK's opt-out currently allows employers to ask their staff to work longer hours.

The survey was commissioned by the European Commission (EC) to discover the implications of removing the opt-out provision. It will now aid in the EC's decision as to whether or not the provision should be scrapped. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

Currently, 65 per cent of employers take advantage of the provision by getting workers to sign agreements to work more than 48 hours in a week.

“Removing the UK's opt-out would have a profound effect on employment practice, and this is borne out by the survey results,” said the chairman of the ELA's International Committee John Evans. “It's extremely important that the practical effects of proposed changes to EU legislation are tested on those they directly affect.”

The opt-out currently seems to be taken as par for the course by UK workers, with less than 10 per cent of employees refusing to sign an agreement to work more than 48 hours.