Along with wages, working time is a defining feature of the employment relationship and needs little justification for special attention — ‘Time is at the heart of industrial relations’ suggests the European Commission (2000: 66). As previous chapters have pointed out, the two main dimensions of working time — duration and flexibility — have been significant factors in the development of the EU’s multi-level system of industrial relations. They have been one of the main vehicles of bargaining decentralization within national systems (Traxler et al., 2001: 128–9) — notable examples include the 1984 settlement reducing the working week below 40 hours in German metalworking and the French Aubry legislation of 1998 and 1999 implementing the 35-hour week. They have also constituted a major focus for Community-level activity. Substantively, the duration of working time figures prominently in the 1993 EU Working Time Directive under its provisions for a 48-hour average weekly maximum and four weeks paid holiday entitlement. The flexibility of working time is seen as making a major contribution to the modernization of work organization, being vital to each of the main objectives of the EU’s employment strategy, i.e. full employment; quality of work (better jobs) and productivity or competitiveness; and cohesion and an inclusive labour market providing for greater access (European Commission, 2003b).
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