Take working time rules seriously

By FWi staff

FEW farmers deliberately flout the Working Time Regulations, but many do not pay enough attention to the legislation, says employment law expert Philip Cookson.

Speaking at a recent NFU Mutual-backed conference, the solicitor stressed the importance of following the regulations, which came into force on 01 October, 1998.

These state that unless an employee chooses to formally opt out, his or her working week should be limited to a maximum of 48 hours.

Although breaching the guidelines may seem a relatively minor offence, Mr Cookson said the Health and Safety Executive will treat it as a criminal offence, and reminded the audience that the HSE has even wider-ranging powers than the police.

The main stumbling block when trying to understand the rules was that, so far, few decisions had been made by the higher courts regarding their interpretation.

Employment tribunals had also adopted an inconsistent approach in the application of particular regulations, said Mr Cookson.

He believed the courts would ultimately clarify the legislation, but urged farmers not to get involved in a test case.

“Such cases tend to be extremely long and expensive, and even if the employer wins it will have generally cost more than settling the dispute on reasonable terms.”

He said the simplest solution for farmers was to get workers to contract out of the 48-hour limit.

“Setting up such a contract involves very little effort and I am surprised more farmers have not done it already.”

Most employees were prepared to do this either because they would get overtime for the extra hours or because they were prepared to work longer anyway to further their careers, he added.

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