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EU's talks on working week near to collapse

EUROPEAN Union negotiations on capping the working week came to the brink of collapse yesterday, throwing doubt over a reform that could end the culture of long working hours in countries such as Britain.

After night-long talks, the European Parliament and EU governments failed to agree on details of the planned legislation that would end opt-outs that Britain and 14 other EU members have from the bloc's 48-hour limit on the working week.

"I regret that no agreement was reached in the early hours of this morning," EU Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said.

The parliament wants rigid curbs on the working week and the governments want more flexibility, which they contend is needed especially during the economic crisis.

Under the EU's decision-making system, the negotiators have one more meeting to clinch a compromise before the end of the parliament's term in May. If they fail, the legislation will be thrown away after more than four years of laborious talks.

The Czech Republic, which currently holds the 27-nation EU's presidency, wants to push ahead with negotiations, but one official from the executive European Commission cautioned privately that the chances of a compromise were slim.

A final collapse of the talks would mean the Commission must table new legislative proposals, potentially opening the way for years of further negotiations during which the current working week opt-outs would be kept.


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