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The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) 2003/88/EC guarantees maximum weekly working hours and minimum periods of rest and annual paid leave to all workers in the European Union. One of its main features is a maximum average working week of 48 hours (including overtime) as part of the provisions laying down minimum safety and health requirements for the organisation of working time.

The directive, however, also provides the option for Member States not to apply (or to opt out of) the 48-hour weekly working limit. Not all Member States allow the use of this opt-out possibility and the conditions under which it can be used vary significantly from country to country. Additionally, very little is known about its use and its impact on employers and workers.

Drafted following a request by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament, this report describes how the Member States make use of the working time opt-out, how widely it is used and what its impacts are on workers and employers. The first part presents background to the EWTD, including the provisions for opting out and their limits. The second part looks at the application of the opt-out at national level both formally and in practice. It describes briefly whether and how each Member State has transposed the option to deviate from the maximum working week and looks at the extent to which opt-outs have been used. The third part is dedicated to the current debates involving social partners and governments about the use of the opt-out and long working hours. Finally, the fourth part briefly discusses what the available research says about potential consequences of the use of the opt-out.

This report is based mainly on the contributions from Eurofound’s Network of European Correspondents for the annual updates on collectively agreed working time. The contributions stem from the replies to a common questionnaire that included specific questions regarding the use and impact of the opt-out from the EWTD (see Annex 1).


Suggested Citation
European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. (2015). Opting out of the European Working Time Directive. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.