Date: Fri, 15 Nov 96 12:01:50 CST
From: Labor Committee on the Middle East <>
Subject: Brit's Major Says a 48-hour Workweek Isn't Enuf

Major confronts EU over 48-hour ruling

By Philip Webster and Charles Bremner, London Times, 13 November 1996

JOHN MAJOR paved the way for confrontation with the European Union lasting up to and through the general election yesterday when he pledged to reverse a European Court of Justice verdict imposing a 48-hour maximum working week on Britain.

The Prime Minister, in a move that won the backing of most Tory MPs, and particularly the Euro-sceptic wing, announced he could not accept the ruling of the Luxembourg judges and that if it was not changed he would block any agreement in the inter-governmental conference shaping Europe's future.

As the European Commission accused Mr Major of trying to hold his EU colleagues to ransom, amendments were tabled by Britain in Brussels last night that would have the effect of overturning the ruling and block ing alleged loopholes to prevent related European laws being imposed on this country by the same route.

But the Commission delivered a quick and predictable rebuff. Jacques Santer, its President, told Mr Major to get on with implementing the new rules as quickly as possible.

In a letter from Brussels to Downing Street, Mr Santer rejected the Prime Minister's call, in a letter earlier in the day, for the ruling to be reversed so British workers can be excluded.

Mr Major's tough line ensured that Britain's attitude to the ruling - giving workers the right not to be forced to work more than 48 hours against their will, a statutory entitlement to three weeks' paid holiday and a compulsory weekly rest day—would become a central election issue, apparently pleasing strategists in both main parties. Tony Blair immediately squared up to the Prime Minister in the Commons, asking if he would fight the next election on the slogan: Vote Tory for no right to a holiday.

Mr Major, who sees Labour's stance as a means of showing it is in favour of more regulation and, therefore, a threat to jobs, declared: Britain wants good jobs, not worthless directives.

A handful of pro-European Tories voiced concern about his hard line, but Mr Major said: I will not accept what has been determined by the courts today and when we reach the end of the IGC I shall demand a change or there will be no end of the IGC.

Mr Blair pointed out that the IGC is not due to end until June, after the general election, and claimed Mr Major was looking for an escape route. However, senior ministers made plain that Mr Major's tough line would be evident at next month's Dublin summit. Ministers called the ruling the thin end of the wedge and said if Britain did not act to close the loophole a raft of new EU social legislation would follow.

One small government victory was the court finding that the compulsory rest day need not be a Sunday.

About five million public sector workers will be covered by the ruling from November 23, but most already have similar or more favourable agreements.

John Monks, the TUC General Secretary, called the ruling great news. Adair Turner, the CBI Director-General, said it was legislation at its worst. Brussels officials were delighted. This is a good day for social Europe, said Padraig Flynn, Social Affairs Commissioner.