| 8.9°C Dublin

EU civil servants refusing to work 40-hour week

A union for eurocrats is on the warpath over plans for a 40-hour week - claiming the move would hit the balance between work and home life.

Some of the best-paid civil servants in the world are being asked to agree to work another two and a half hours a week as a cost-saving measure in the midst of mounting pressure from national governments to cut the EU administrative budget.

Number-crunchers in Brussels say putting in the modest extra hours will save EU taxpayers €1bn.

But one of the staff unions representing workers with pay and conditions which are the envy of national civil servants across Europe is refusing to negotiate on the increase.

All civil servants in the main EU institutions - European Commission, European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers - enjoy the same scale of pay and perks.

And many senior staff work long hours, despite the official norm of 37 and a half hours per week.

Now the Equipe d'Union Syndicale, the European Parliament's joint trade union, has sent round a message rejecting the call for longer hours.

A group of union officials put their names to a letter declaring: "The unions and staff associations replied to this proposal with a categorical 'Niet!"'

They say working a 40-hour week would have a "very negative impact on reconciliation of working and home life".

The statement adds: "The attractiveness of the European civil service would deteriorate."

European Parliament staff already have Fridays off in the weeks when European Parliament plenary sessions are held.

And most staff finish at lunchtime on Fridays the rest of the time.

But some insisted today that staff put in long hours, far in excess of the official 37 and a half hour week.

On the other hand they can operate a flexi-time system, balancing short days by working longer hours another day.

And they enjoy time off in lieu for hours over 37 and a half per week - even in senior management positions.

But Conservative leader in the European Parliament Martin Callanan insisted today that those fighting the change should "get real", in the midst of the economic cutbacks being suffered across Europe.

"Public sector staff the world over are facing cutbacks and wage freezes," he said.

"But here in Brussels they seem to think they live in an economic microclimate where money grows on trees and the world owes them a very comfortable living."

He added: "The Brussels pen-pushers, just like many of the politicians here, just don't seem to get it when it comes to the economy. Austerity measures are being taken everywhere, but somehow they think the EU is immune.

"They need to get real and start to talk to us about how they can help Europe out of this crisis."

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party and an MEP, said: "Not only do those in the various EU institutions have no idea about what to do with the eurozone crisis, but many of them now appear to be refusing to work a few extra hours a week, which many of us do as a matter of necessity just to keep a roof over our heads.

"You really couldn't make it up: Greece looks like it is about to implode and yet the eurocrats responsible for the mess are moaning about working slightly longer every week to justify their bloated salaries that we are paying for."