News from Europe

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Working Hours

Our October EU lead item covered the proposed revision to and expansions of the Working Time Directive. The Commission's final draft contains no real surprises but there are a few concessions to strong UK lobbying.

For example, if and when this becomes law we would still have the right for individual workers to opt out of the otherwise mandatory 48-hour week. The opt out would come with tighter regulations to stop unscrupulous employers from abuse such as giving the individual the right to withdraw agreement at future dates and in a reasonable manner.

The new document also permits extension of the reference period over which the 48-hour week is aggregated from 4 months to a year. Also hours during which the individual is only on call and not working can be ignored; only hours spent actually working on a callout have to be added in although there are associated conditions about subsequent rest hours.

Hours spent checking the small print on www.europe.org.uk would be a good investment in forearming.

Buying in Public

Changes are yet again afoot from the Commission in the matter of public procurement and e-systems for the use thereof. New Directives are planned ostensibly to allow e-procurement under the existing open-opportunity and fair treatment rules to become slicker. Let us hope they do just that instead of landing public sector management services with yet another layer of rules as burdensome as the existing ones. The full story is on:

www.europa.eu.int/comm/ internal_market/publicprocurement

ID Cards for all?

News as we go to press that the Home Office is launching an expensive PR campaign on the benefits of compulsory identity cards seems at odds with the multi-billion fiasco that is the health service's new national database - or at least will be when it gets working.

ID cards are receiving heavy Brussels support and arm-twisting and have been the subject of several debates and embryonic attempts to make them mandatory. Now we hear that UK legislation is imminent and that in any case all new passports and driving licences will soon assume an ID card role.

Added to this is a recent move by Brussels to adopt a European health insurance card. The aim here is to make it easier for nationals of one EU country to avail themselves of the state health services of another.

But herein lies a typical abundance of duplication. Management services people know full well the data holding attributes of the chips that manufacturers can load into smart cards. It is perfectly feasible to design a bit of plastic that can hold one's birth identity, curriculum vitae, driving qualifications and penalties, and, significantly, one's entire medical record. What is more, officials can be barred from accessing those parts of the card's database they are not allowed to see.

So if Brussels is pushing us toward ID cards why does the NHS need a huge database? All it requires is for the doctor treating us to pop our ID card into the inevitably present PC and they've got the lot. …