23 June 2005 | Anusha Bradley
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) plan to maintain pressure on the government to ensure staff retain the option to work flexible hours.
The pledge followed the UK government's successful attempt to keep its opt-out from the European Union Working Time Directive, which limits the working week to 48 hours.
In May, EU employment ministers voted to phase out the option by 2012. The government's attempt was supported by Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus.
The issue will now be returned to parliament. However, the Forum of Private Business, a group for SMEs, says it will lobby Tony Blair and trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson to keep the opt-out clause in place.
Victoria Carson, FPB campaigns and policy manager, said its removal would make SMEs unable to compete with large suppliers or foreign competitors.
However, trade unions were unimpressed by the news.
A spokeswoman for Unison told SM: "It means employers can pressure employees to sign their rights away.
"We also have to consider that people working long hours are more likely to have accidents."