Cut in working hours poses threat to livestock haulage

by 5m Editor
9 February 2004, at 12:00am

UK - Collection of livestock and delivery of animals feeds will be thrown into chaos if Brussels forces British workers to restrict their working week to 48 hours.

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NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & Whitehall, and with processors, supermarkets & caterers – fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

The livestock haulage sector is already shrinking because of poor profitability and difficulty finding drivers with stock-handling skills. If drivers are forced to give up their overtime of around 12-18 hours a week, a significant percentage will quit and get jobs with larger blue chip hauliers offering 3500 for a 48-hour week.

Hauliers are expecting drivers to be restricted to 48 hours from March next year. The reduction in working hours will mean higher costs. All experience to date indicates these will be passed down the chain to farmers rather than upstream to consumers.

One solution might be to work livestock and animal feed lorries around the clock, with two shifts of drivers but this would not be uniformly welcomed by producers.

The European Commission is reviewing its Working Hours Directive and in so doing is casting a jaundiced eye over Britain where currently employees may choose to opt out of the 48-hour week. Brussels is concerned that British workers put in too many hours and that opting out is not always a matter of free choice.

The Working Hours Directive requires working hours to be no more than 48 hours a week when averaged over a 17 week period. All member states may, if they wish, extend the averaging-out period from 17 weeks to 26 weeks or even 52 weeks.

If an employer wishes to average out over 26 weeks he must get the agreement of his staff. If he wishes to average out over 52 weeks he will need a collective agreement between the association that represents him and the relevant trade union.

The upcoming review by the European Commission and European Parliament will focus particularly on the British 48-hour opt-out, and the 26-week and 52-week extended averaging out periods.

Pig producers have been urged to make their views known to NPA so that a robust defence of current practices can be submitted.

In common with other reputable livestock hauliers, Somerset based A. E. George and Sons Ltd - who are members of NPA - prefer to recruit people with stockmanship skills, and turn them into drivers, rather than the other way around.

"We are finding it very hard to recruit the right people, with a farming background," said managing director Barry Woof. "We would face major difficulties if we lost some of our experienced drivers due to a tightening of the Working Time Directive.

"Unfortunately we know from experience that with the product we are hauling around, additional costs, instead of going forward to the consumer, always travel back to the producer, who has enough cost already."

NPA members are asked to consider the following questions and forward their answers to Ann Petersson.

  • What is the current length of the reference period you use to calculate working time?
  • What would be the necessary length of the reference period if the opt-out were removed?
  • Do you make use the opt-out on your farm?
  • Do you ask employees to sign opt-out agreements as routine and if so for what reason?
  • Would you be able to continue normal seasonal operations if the opt-out was removed but a 12-month reference period was allowed to continue?
  • Recent cases at the European Court of Justice have extended the definition of working time to include time spent on-call while present at a place of work. Do you envisage that this new interpretation of the definition of working time will have any implications for your current farming operations if (a) the opt-out is removed but the reference period remains at 52 weeks? (b) the opt-out is removed and the reference period is reduced to 17 weeks?
Source: National Pig Association - By Digby Scott - 9th February 2004

5m Editor