Since its introduction last October, Deloitte & Touche has stuck to the spirit of the directive by not allowing staff to opt out in any circumstances. The company said it did not feel an opt-out of health and safety legislation was appropriate. The revelation comes as the rules are to be expanded next month when full-time employees will have their right to annual holiday raised from three to four weeks. The working time regulations give effect in the UK to the European Union's working time directive, and have introduced a swathe of rules designed to protect the health and safety of staff. Under the rules, staff can choose to work long hours, but cannot be penalised if they do not wish to do so. Requirements include that no member of staff should have to work more than 48 hours a week averaged over a 17-week stretch, while they are also entitled to a minimum 20 minutes' rest break each day. Last year Arthur Andersen announced it was asking its 60,000 UK staff to opt out of the 48-hour maximum, a clause built in to the agreement. Most other accountancy firms said they were considering the situation. This week KPMG said its own staff could opt out and said most of them probably had. A spokesman said all staff had been briefed fully at the time the legislation was introduced. He added: 'We did this because client care never stops. Business doesn't respect time zones and we need maximum efficiency.' Ernst & Young staff can also sign away their rights. Richard Gartside, a spokesman for the firm, said: 'Any staff member who consistently works over the limit can waive their rights if they wish. The limit does not affect many of our staff, however, and the directive is not as onerous as we first feared.' The Federation of Small Businesses warned the extension of holiday entitlement could hit small companies.
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