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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Loses EU Labor Law Challenge

BRUSSELS -- The European Court of Justice dealt a blow to Britain on Tuesday by rejecting its challenge to a European Union law limiting working hours and guaranteeing rest periods.


The Luxembourg-based court rejected Britain's argument that the law, which sets a maximum average work week of 48 hours, had been improperly adopted as a health-and-safety measure.


The verdict means that EU states could face a battle in their talks to amend the union's treaty. British Prime Minister John Major has vowed to block other reforms unless he wins changes to protect Britain from such laws.


The EU court supported Britain on only one point, striking down a provision in the law which says the minimum weekly rest period should in principle include a Sunday.


"The court finds that [EU ministers have] failed to explain why Sunday as a weekly rest day is more closely connected with the health and safety of workers than any other day of the week," said a statement accompanying the judgment.


It ordered Britain to pay court costs.


Major immediately pledged to continue fighting for changes to the law in the EU's inter-governmental conference on EU treaty reforms. "I believe it is a bad piece of legislation," he told reporters. "I don't accept that it is appropriate to the United Kingdom."


British Trade and Industry Secretary Ian Lang said after the ruling that Britain would obey the law, which takes effect Nov. 23, until it could get it changed -- but would adopt it only after full consultation with the public.


Britain argued that the directive should be thrown out because it was improperly adopted under health rules, which require support of only a majority of EU countries, instead of under EU rules requiring unanimity.


In the latter case, Britain would have been able to veto the law, which, it argues, represents gross interference from Brussels.


But the court said that EU ministers had used the proper treaty article, which calls for rules to improve the working environment to protect the health and safety of workers.


EU Internal Market Commissioner Mario Monti said the impact of the rules should not be exaggerated. "This particular case should not be overdramatized," he said on the sidelines of a conference in Harrogate, England. "The directive contemplates a number of exceptions and exemptions," he said.


The decision was welcomed by John Monks, general secretary of Britain's Trade Union Congress. "I think this is very good news for British workers ... This is a major contribution by the European Union," he told BBC Radio.


Workers in a wide range of transport sectors, seafarers and doctors in training are not covered by the rules. Governments can also exempt managing executives, employees of families and religious officials from some provisions.