Officials at the Department of Trade and Industry will meet with the heads of organisations including the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress within the next few weeks to give their views on the plans. Talks will centre on amendments to the European Parliament's Working Time Directive, after consultation on the controversial proposals closes tomorrow.
Although the Working Time Directive has been law in Britain since 1998, it excluded key sectors including air, rail and road. These new amendments aim to address these areas, backed by the Road Transport Directive that will be considered later in the year. If the new plans are passed unchanged, then new laws will impose strict rest period and working time limits on van drivers by August.
The complex regulations would cover working time, rest breaks, time away from work and holiday periods that employers have to follow. A specific reference is made to mobile workers. This includes anyone operating transport services for passengers or goods by road.
It states: 'Working time shall mean any period during which the worker is working, at the employer's disposal and carrying out his or her activity or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice.'
It demands 'adequate rest', stating that workers have regular rest periods, 'to ensure that, as a result of fatigue or other irregular working patterns, they do not cause injury to themselves, to fellow workers or to others and that they do not damage their health, either in the short-term or in the longer-term'.
In detail, the regulations call for 11 hours rest per day and that, where the working day is longer than six hours, every worker is entitled to a rest break, although the length of it is not defined. British businesses were warned in August last year they could face limits on van drivers' hours after a German MEP lobbied the European Parliament to introduce restrictions to extend driving hour restrictions to vehicles of less than 3.5-tonnes.
A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry said: 'We want to see any regulations affecting transport worded in such a way that there is flexibility for these sectors. Therefore, general wording is more welcome than restrictive definitions.'
A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: 'We will be meeting with key groups during February and then by the end of April, the expanded regulations will be laid before Parliament, with a view to them becoming law in August.'