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Is Time Being Called on Working Time?
Adrian Poole and Tim Dallinger ponder the laws around working time, how they are likely to evolve and what care providers need to do to stay on top of developments.
Time, they say, is a wonderous and mysterious thing. It’s not a constant but ebbs and flows. Those who have read (or in the case of one of the authors of this article tried to read!) a Brief History of Time will also be aware that it distorts from point to point. Even at a more practical level, there never seems enough time in the day to do the things we need to do, yet a few minutes of peace can seem like a millennium. Like watching paint dry or a kettle coming to the boil.
And so, it is perhaps unsurprising that the laws regulating working time are less than straightforward. Indeed, like the concept of time itself, they have developed and expanded. Undoubtedly, had Professor Stephen Hawkins been a lawyer, he could have made insightful observations over that process and what it means to us all.
Whilst the concept of working time really became an area in its own right with the Working Time Regulations 1998, the genesis of controls on the level of work required of workers goes much further back. Perhaps the most notable example is the Holidays with Pay Act 1938, giving certain workers one week’s paid holiday each year (lucky them!). The current regulations of course provide for much more than this and include daily as well as weekly rest breaks in addition to annual leave.
The UK has never been entirely comfortable with the State interfering too much with an individual’s ability to work. A prime example of this is the 48 hour opt-
In the field of Care there are other concessions. Like other ‘special cases’ there is the possibility for the sector to diverge from the requirements of daily and weekly rest where continuity is required and when compensatory rest can be provided. Hence the rules do not remain hard and fast which in many cases has created confusion and conflict within the workplace. So too is the often-
But where are we now? There are several factors which are likely to change the face of working time and its regulation moving forward.
First, Brexit presents the UK with an opportunity to decide what is a reasonable working week, what counts as working hours and what are the maximum hours that an employer can insist that a worker works. It remains to be seen how high up the government agenda this gets and what the appetite for change is.
Secondly, the cost-
Thirdly, there is undoubtedly a general culture shift away from fixed hours of work. Whilst the care sector of course had to struggle on through the pandemic, the broader change in approach towards work/life balance is difficult to deny, particularly amongst the young. The extent to which this truly manifests itself when there are bills to be paid is debatable, though that expectation is likely to become the new norm, assisted by more family-
Overall, we could well see a shift in emphasis away from regulated hours of work to a more responsibility-
Whilst it is accepted that many of you will already be doing these things, there is always room for improvement. Ironically, the secret is for managers to make the time to do these things so to free up time elsewhere. We started this article by saying that time is a curious thing, and we guess that the notion of taking time to save time really does prove it. Just don’t leave it too late.
Adrian Poole has worked with the social care and healthcare sectors for the last 20 years. He was until recently a partner and head of a specialist team at a regional law firm. He is now a consultant at Apers Ltd (www.apers.co.uk) specialising in the regulated sectors. Here he provides expert HR and regulatory advice, combining this with leadership, management and compliance training. He is a regular speaker at local and national conferences. He also works as a consultant solicitor in Dorset.