The move has been criticised by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which believes the UK already has a culture of long working hours.
Countries such as Spain, Greece, Italy and Cyprus plan to impose a maximum 48-hour working week but the government’s decision means British workers, mainly senior managers and professionals, can work beyond this, with many continuing to work for up to 60 hours.
Brendan Barber, general secretary at the TUC, said: ‘This was a missed opportunity to ensure that UK workers are properly protected against the dangers of overwork. The trend in the UK is now towards a slow decline in long working hours. New legal rights would have speeded up that process without hitting economic success.’
The TUC plans to increase its campaign against long working hours in a bid to bring the UK into line with existing EU law.