The second meeting of the Conciliation Committee for the Working Time Directive took place on 1st April 2009. The subjects once again revolved around old acquaintances: the opt-out problem, the stand-by duty including rest periods, the definition of senior employee, the item “Multiple Contracts” and the reconciliation between professional and family-life. The negotiations adjourned without progress being made.
Meeting once again remained without result
Although compromise proposals were submitted by both sides, the second meeting also remained without result. What is even more disturbing is that the Czech Presidency will only agree to another meeting once the so-called informal discussions between Council and Parliament have succeeded in ironing out any existing problems. Only then the Czechs will be willing to meet officially for the last time in order to reach a solution. This, however, was not well received by the chief negotiator of the European Parliament, Mechtild Rothe. She had wanted to set a date for the next meeting whilst the negotiations were still taking place, unfortunately without success. This meeting will presumably take place after 20th or 21st April. It cannot take place much later because the 6-week period, during which an agreement has to be reached in order to replace the old Working Time Directive, expires.

No agreement - failure of the Council or the European Parliament?
It is not easy to establish who is to blame for failing to reach an agreement. What, however, is clear that the ones to suffer are the employees. If, for example, no agreement would be reached concerning the opt-out, the old Working Time Directive would remain in force and the Opt-Out rule would be extended for an indefinite period. This would be even worse than the regulation introduced by the Council in June of last year. That some of the Member States would regard this as rather convenient is obvious as some of them have applied the Opt-Out rule for many years. That is why the Member States, which are against the opt-out have to apply appropriate pressure. The European Parliament has submitted proposals, which would not only enable an end of the opt-out, but also take the necessary flexibility into account. What is now required is a final major effort to break through the blocking minority - the opportunity of a minority of Member States to prevent a decision - and to find a way which is acceptable to all to bring the chapter Working Time Directive to a worthy end after years of stagnation and not to bury it without having achieved a result.

The ball is now in the court of the Council
The Czech Presidency must now demonstrate its negotiating skills. It has to make sure that negotiations do not fail and try everything that on-call time remains in place as working time. The opt-out, an exemption clause, which had originally been introduced exclusively for Great Britain should expire and the judgements of the European Court of Justice concerning on-call time should at last be complied with.