25 September 1998

Act now to comply with staff working hour rules

EMPLOYERS must take action now to avoid breaking new rules due to be introduced next week which limit staff working hours.

The new working time directive, which comes into force on Oct 1, makes allowances for industries with periods of peak activity, including agriculture. But employers need to cover themselves to avoid any doubt, advises Christopher Monk, a farm business consultant with Strutt & Parker.

Employees can volunteer to work longer hours than the directive stipulates. If so, there should be an agreement in writing, which must include a notice period of a maximum of three months, says Mr Monk. Both parties must also keep records of hours worked.

But, he warns, an employer cannot demand staff work longer hours than are contained in the directive against his or her will.

"Failure to have such an agreement in place could result in action against the employer if, for example, the worker was involved in an accident as a result of working longer hours," says Mr Monk. Generally, the directive limits the working week to 48 hours, averaged over a 17-week period. No more than 13 hours should be worked during any one day.

Flexibility clauses make allowances for busy periods on farms. The averaging period for maximum hours can be extended to 26 weeks, where continuity of service or production is essential, for example, in lambing cover.

It also applies where there is a foreseeable surge in activity, such as harvest or calving, where an employee may be required to work more than 13 hours a day, says Mr Monk. &#42