Workforce management software makes it easy to ensure that working practices are compliant with current regulations such as the UK Working Time Regulations.
The European Working Time Directive first became law in the UK in 1998 and wasn’t universally embraced. UK workers can currently opt out of the 48 hour work week and work longer hours.
At the heart of the regulations is the aim to protect employee’s health and safety. Long working hours can affect an individual’s health. Accidents in the workplace can be caused by tiredness. Productivity has also been shown to suffer. Working time regulations aren’t new…
It started with the Victorians
The 1833 Factory Act was introduced primarily to protect children working in textile factories. The act stated that children under the age of nine weren’t allowed to be employed in textile factories (except silk mills!), and those between 9 and 13 weren’t allowed to work more than 9 hours a day.
Women and young people could work for no more than 12 hours a day during the week which included one and a half hours for meals. Only 9 hours work was allowed on Sundays. No-one under the age of 18 was to work a night shift. Time-keeping was regulated by a public clock approved by an inspector (one standard time across the UK wasn’t set until 1862).
In 1867 the Factory Act was extended to all establishments employing 50 or more people (previously only textile workers were covered).
After a further series of acts, by 1878 women weren’t supposed to work for more than 60 hours a week and no worker was to work more than 10 hours a day. (Under the current Working Time Regulations the limit is 48 hours a week for men and women)
Long hours vs safety and productivity
The First World War however increased working hours again for some women. It became common for ‘munitionettes’ in the munitions factories to work 12 hour shifts, often up to 2 weeks with no break. Some factories offered no breaks at all during the shift and workers ate at their machines (Victorian factory acts had previously banned people from eating at their machines).
Inevitably there were serious accidents due to the dangerous working environment and the long hours. In 1917, 73 people were killed and 400 injured in a munitions factory explosion in Silvertown, East London.
More recently the UK Health and Safety Executive has prosecuted businesses not only for safety breaches but also where fatalities have occurred as a result of long working hours.
A shorter working week (for some)
In 1926 Ford was one of the first businesses in the US to introduce a 40 hour 5 day working week. Henry Ford stated, “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” It meant that workers had more leisure time not only to spend with their families but to buy goods such as – motor cars.
Over the last few years Sweden has been debating a 6 hour working day with people paid a similar or the same salary as a ‘normal’ working day. A number of businesses have been operating 6 hour working days for employees for a number of years already and report better motivation and low staff turnover. Which in these days of reported skills shortages has got to be good news!
In some caring professions a 6 hour day has improved staff motivation and the levels of care patients receive. One Swedish local council is running a pilot with care workers at the moment.
UK Working Time Regulations – general principles
Employees over the age of 18 should only work 48 hours a week on average (in the UK individuals can currently choose to work longer hours by “opting out”).
• Paid annual leave of 5.6 weeks’ a year.
• 11 consecutive hours’ rest in any 24-hour period.
• A 20-minute rest break if the working day is longer than six hours.
• One day off each week.
• Limit on the normal working hours of night workers to an average eight hours in any 24-hour period, and an entitlement for night workers to receive regular health assessments.
(Under 18’s should only work 8 hours a day and up to 40 hours a week).
Wikipedia – Summary of UK Factory Acts
Imperial War Museum – Munitionettes
The Guardian – Sweden’s 6 hour working day
The Chronologic Workforce Management time and attendance module helps employers keep track of and report hours worked as well as ensuring breaks are taken, etc. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help your business stay compliant and keep your employees safe and healthy – get in touch.