A 48 Hour Work Week Limit In The UK?

Scott Squires tweeted this article advocating the 40-hour work week. To my surprise, it mentions that some of the most competitive countries in the world (which I pointed out a few months ago as also having the highest percentages of union membership) limit the number of hours a worker can work in a week:

In six of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom), it’s illegal to demand more than a 48-hour work week.  You simply don’t see the 50-, 60-, and 70-hour work weeks that have become de rigeur in some parts of the U.S. business world.

Now I’m not familiar with labor laws in Europe but the reason I found this surprising is that one of the common issues many professionals have in the UK VFX industry is that they work long hours and are paid a day rate. So if you found yourself working a 12-14 hour day, you are paid the same amount as if you were working an 8-9 hour day.

So if there is a work week limit in the UK and professionals are being paid a day rate, why not exercise these work week limits? I asked around on twitter and it turns out that many are expected to sign contracts agreeing to opt-out of this law. Has anyone refused to opt-out?

Googling around I found the the law does permit to opting out of this requirement. I would LOVE to advocate a 50 hour work-week limit but many like working OT.

Soldier On.

39 Responses to A 48 Hour Work Week Limit In The UK?

  1. jez says:

    This might help, I would read it all as there are a number of clauses and opt-outs (it mentions about opting out of the 48hr week) and certain definitions.

    Such as:

    “The Working Week does not include:

    “Unpaid overtime where you have volunteered to, for example, stay late to finish something off”

    “Certain Industries and circumstances (including the Film and TV Industry, Press and Radio) are exempt from these rest break provisions and can legitimately ask you to work into your breaks”


    The article that Scott posted is a bit misleading as it assume because there is a 48hr European work directive it must exist for all member states of the EU. But it is implemented differently for different countries. I could post all the lengthy EU docs regarding this (they are a hefty read) so for the time being I’ll post these rough articles that try and break it down.



  2. tristan says:

    Regarding the 48 hour working week in the UK, the legal advice I have received on the matter has been, in a nutshell is:

    You can “opt out” of it, but it must be a separate explicit document. You cannot be forced to opt out, nor can the text of it be buried (or even included) in your regular work contract.

    It includes all time worked, including overtime, that your employer asks or insists you do. The proviso for “volunteered time” exists where overtime is worked without your employer asking you to, (either explicitly or implicitly).

    The 48 hour week is not per week but calculated as an average over 17 weeks.

    The exemptions regarding breaks are implied as only to be invoked in special circumstances, where there is a real, unforseen need to do so. It does not nullify your right to rest periods.

    It also specifies minimum turn around time between days (11 hours) and between weeks (24 hours)

    It is UK law and not (as some people have been misinformed) an EU law or workplace agreement that can be circumvented.

    Despite everything, very few cases have ever gone to court, and many of the clauses that are open to interpretation have never been tested.

    • Conrad says:

      All EU laws have to become part of the UK law.

      • jez says:

        Nope it’s called a ‘directive’ it’s not ‘law’ of the land, lt, depends on the country (opt-outs, veto etc…). Same as a lot of differentiation with regards to what we assume as USA law; but it is dependant on the state, and has variations.

      • Conrad says:

        EU countries are bound by both EU regulations and EU directives. The difference is that the regulations tell the country exactly what to do but the directives tell them something they must achieve but leaves the details of how up to the individual countries.

        The UK has to comply to the directive but can fight for an opt out clause.


      • jez says:

        this reply system is weird:

        Anyway I think you answered it better than I could Conrad:

        “The difference is that the regulations tell the country exactly what to do but the directives tell them something they must achieve but leaves the details of how up to the individual countries.”

        The UK vfx houses are not doing anything illegal, even with the contracts, like it or not. Every Country in the EU applies to the law of the land with regards to work/hrs/rest/opt out etc. The article that Scott was pointing to was pretty poor journalism, with regards to the 48hr “directive” and EU law, and jumped on something for it’s own agenda, right or wrong, to relate something to the US.

      • Conrad says:

        As far as I understand they still can’t make you sign the opt-out.

      • Conrad says:

        The opt-out I signed was separate from my contract, just in the same envelope.

      • jez says:

        Yep they don’t force you to sign (no-one has held a gun to my head); worked at some houses in the uk and the opt-out was a separate contract; others it was written into the main one.

        Again the vfx houses in the uk are doing nothing legally wrong with regards to work hrs, I’m not justifying, or condoning etc just pointing out a fact. And I think someone has mentioned earlier none of this has been tested in a court of law (not just the uk, but other EU memeber states, bizarrely I believe Greece was being tested on it, but I think that’s all on the back burner now) there is no precedent of this directive being up-held; so who knows……..(perhaps it has and I might be wrong.)

  3. edwardh says:

    I’m sure you are aware that it’s not about “liking” it. As long as companies are allowed loopholes like that, they’ll always exert the necessary pressure to make use of it.

    But yeah, that article is a pretty steaming pile of BS. I’ve heard similar things about Germany as UK. Not quite as bad as far as I know but people will still sometimes be asked to work 70 hours or more.

    And I will once again (only did that recently) point out: laws are relative. (non-VFX-related case in point: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-06-03/news/ct-met-levin-hit-and-run-2-20110603_1_house-arrest-work-with-florida-authorities-craig-elford )

    • Reff says:

      In Germany depends on if you are staff or freelancer. As staff you get vacation days for your overtime, you could get the money but it is taxed so high that it is not worth it. As a freelancer you get paid by hour or day, also depends on how you negotiated your contract….of course when you work long hours they always want to give you the feeling the job could have been done faster and want to tell you at the next negotiations about the money that you not worth the more money….this has been my experience with companies there….in the end they pay anyway, because to find good artists is not that easy, everywhere in the world!

  4. edwardh says:

    This also just reminds me of an older article you wrote, where you linked an article that said there would be no complaints about overtime (even unpaid, possibly?) at the biggest VFX studios. As if to say that these issues don’t exist there.
    Right… get real. It’s nothing new that there are less complaints about big companies. Usually not because they’re doing so well though… if you don’t believe me, maybe research the sexual discrimination lawsuit against Walmart (e.g.: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/21/15_million_female_walmart_employees_lose )

    • jonavark says:

      From what I remember.. that case was dismissed by judges.. I’m sure if they had a case they would have kept it alive..

      though totally irrelevant here.

  5. Don says:

    I am always shocked at how vfx artists will always sign the 48 hours European directive opt out form without a moments thought. Its one of the very few pieces of law we have protecting our workers rights, and people are signing it away.

    One of the many problems I see in the UK is a that there is deep rooted culture of fear in the vfx industry.
    A lot of vfx artists seem to be always in fear of losing their jobs for a multitude of reasons, or of being black listed, but the worst part of this is that this culture of fear is perpetuated amongst artists themselves rather than by the vfx houses.

    This in turn has allowed companies to completely take advantage of the artists, and now some vfx houses expect unpaid overtime to be perceived as normal by their artists, and in some cases vfx houses even factor in unpaid overtime into their bids for projects, all at the expense to the artist.

    I have never signed the opt out form, and will never do so. I accept that sometimes you have to put in an extra effort, due to tight deadlines, time zone difference with clients, last minute changes etc, etc… but you are not under any obligation to sign it, and the mere sugestion that you are, is highly illegal.

    Sometimes it seems vfx artists are their own worst enemy, the laws are there to protect you, and you chose to ignore them.

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    free jobs…

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  7. Pssst says:

    While you debate how to make the old system work, how to get CEOs, shareholders and clients to give a damn, one company has embraced an ethical model for building a successful creative studio in the age of digital distribution http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2012/04/27/a-glimpse-at-a-workplace-of-the-future-valve/

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Wait wait wait…

      You mean after all the comments you’ve posted on my blog saying professionals are overpaid commodities and their jobs will go to india and china you are now endorsing a business based in the us that treats their employees well and doesn’t need subsidies?

      So I’m sure you’d endorse Dreamworks animation which treats its employees very well, pays them well, encourages them to improve themselves and is also heavily unionized right? Riiiiiiight.

      Now I know why you spam my blog with links and no comment: you’re unable to articulate a competent point of view.

    • Pssst says:

      The information I’ve posted has been relevant.
      I’ve been consistent; games are better than VFX and I can’t wait to see how Oriental Dreamworks plays out – how has the union reacted? If it’s one of your best examples why don’t you report on it?

      • jonavark says:

        Actually.. the information you have cut and pasted is , in fact, irrelevant. It is mostly the same crap over and over and not once have you suggested, posted or joined in any thread to actually discuss anything with relevant comments.

        But .. in every conversation I have ever been in on the internet since its inception there is always at least one of you that has to be tolerated. You provide a mild chuckle now and then. But that’s about it.

        We read THR also.. but they’re not even close to an information site.. they’re one step above TMZ.

      • Pssst says:

        [Hollywood speak]
        Ershon: America has always been defined by its excess. The Grand Canyon, professional sports contracts, Wendy’s baconator, extra bacon! I myself have 18 Lamborghinis, and a Subaru station-wagon. And it’s because of this excess that I have flourished. I implore you, please do not stop profiting. Live for excess, it’s the American way.

        Maybe you’re right, providing evidence of the declining social contract in America isn’t relevant in a discussion about the future of corporate Hollywood with iWorkers that are happy to sit in a cubicle doing virtual factory work like 3D conversions until they have to retire because their arms drop off.
        I prefer to contribute ironic evidence of the insidious mentality promoted by american corporations that is to blame for the current job “crisis” than futile soap boxing about my individual liberty.

  8. livin' in london says:

    I’m an American working in the UK and these are the facts:
    First day at work you’re handed a piece of paper and “told” to sign it. It was confusing because we all know we have to work late sometimes and if you don’t sign this paper, well, they made it sound like I couldn’t continue working there because signing this paper was standard company policy. I wish I had know what was coming, I wouldn’t have signed.
    Still, I was one of the lucky ones. At my company we only had to work til 6pm and then I would just get up and leave. Eventually we were asked to stay an hour longer (everyday for the next 6 months), but they could force us so I’d get to work a little late and leave at 6:30.
    However, I can tell you that at another large company here in London, you are expected to work till at least 9PM or you won’t last long.

    • nathan says:

      Why hide the studio names?? The whole point in this place is to protect the artist… I’d like to know which companies employ this kind of attitude so as to avoid them!

      • livin' in london says:

        Truth is there are blacklists out there and I don’t want to be on one. I was hoping my story will just be a warning and make other artist more aware as they traverse this wild, wild west industry.

      • john says:

        Blacklists? Maybe, but how are they going to know who you are?

  9. Pssst says:

    London studio looking for 10 new people.
    Due to expansion this studio is looking for 2 modellers/lighter and 2 animators (Maya), 2 after-effects designer, 2 compositors (Nuke), 1 head of studio (animation speciality), 1 junior data wrangler. All roles are permanent.
    Please send your CV as a Word doc, indicating which role you are applying for and salary expectations

    Hey!! I have the exact team setup up in Mumbai with an up and running setup. Do you wish to outsource some jobs to us. We are a registered studio in India.

    Or you could help your home economy by creating 10 new jobs right there in London. Better, yes?

  10. tristan says:

    I think a few facts have been lost in the discussion and deserve to be reiterated:

    If you are asked or told to work for (on average) more than 48 hours a week, and have not signed (or were coerced into signing) an opt-out clause then this is illegal under UK law.

    A contract signed under duress or coersion is not valid. If you were bullied or forced into signing the opt-out clause you have effectively not signed it.

    This is covered in the Employment Rights Act of 1996 – a UK law which is separate and independent of any EU Law or Directive.

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  13. […] I’ve written posts on organization movements in Vancouver and the UK. I’ve written posts on workers being mistreated in India at Prime Focus. I’ve written posts on work-for-free programs in Florida by Digital Domain. I’ve written posts on uncompensated overtime in the UK. […]

  14. noIMspartacus says:

    60 – 70 hour week in the US with no overtime? big deal… in the last few months to deadline, that is the norm in the UK…

  15. […] culture.” Sweden, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom all cap working hours at 48 hours a week. And Americans have gotten worse over time. In 1979, 21 percent of men and 5 percent of women […]

  16. hi says:

    actually you are wrong about the UK- i live here and we can also sign the 48hour opt out

  17. […] form of overtime. The fact that VFX facilities in the UK can’t even respect the EU 48 hour work week limit by having artists opt out is a good example of how irresponsible many of them are. It’s also […]

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  20. […] is that #Brexit may weaken some EU mandated labor laws meant to protect them. For example the EU mandated a 48 hour work week limit which many UK facilities ask their workers to opt out of. This might be a good catalyst for many of […]

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