Sunday, 31 October 2010

The joys of European regulation

One of the big surprises, when I started working out here in St Kitts and Nevis, was the discovery that how we manage our working time seems to be regulated by various provisions of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD). I had no idea that EU rules like this actually extended this far!

We first encountered the question of the EWTD when the draft contract for this project was sent out to us, for we immediately realised that as it stood, it was technically impossible to fulfil it. Each of us working on the project is expected to deliver 60 days of input to the project (including, I think, the days of travel at the beginning and end), but the contract only allowed for a working week of five days, and we had to complete the contract in the period October 2nd to December 20th - a period that includes just 58 working days (including travel time). To give ourselves more flexibility, therefore, we formally requested the consulting firm for which we are working to allow us to work a six-day week, and this was conceded. There was no way we were going to be allowed to work seven days in a week - and that's not because the EU particularly cares whether we go to church on a Sunday, but more that officially they don't want us to overwork.

Anyway, the concession allowing us a six day week brought us up to 68 possible working days within the period, but in practice, I doubt whether we take off more than half a day each week, especially when it's taken into account that our 'official' working day is only supposed to be seven hours. In our view, all this strict regulation of the 'input' we deliver to the project is pretty silly, though I realise that we have to fill in time sheets at some point to verify which days we were working, which we were not. But we aren't allowed to tell the truth, as we cannot claim for seven days in any given week (as far as I understand the rules).

Moreover, what really matters, surely, is not the detailed regulation of our inputs, but the outputs we deliver to our client, namely the Government of St Kitts and Nevis. Our terms of reference make no mention of how much we work, beyond noting the requirement for 60 days' input from each of us, but are more concerned with what we do. We are expected to deliver an analysis of the macroeconomic framework, some training workshops and a training manual by the end of the project, which we shall do. In order to achieve these goals, I fully expect that our 'input' will exceed the 60 days for which we are formally contracted, and I don't suppose anyone really cares how much we actually work. In a sense that's our problem, and we simply have to manage our time to deliver what is needed.

Formally, the consulting firm employing us will be able to claim, at the end, that the requirements of the EWTD have been met, quite simply because we shall not be allowed to claim for days that violate the rules - whether we worked extra days or not. Naturally, we realise that whatever we do we shall only be paid for a maximum of 60 days each, but it seems a little strange to be working within a set of rules, on the one hand, and with terms of reference on the other which, taken together, will force us into some mildly dishonest practices (i.e. working when we're not supposed to).

But that's the EU for you - good intentions and well meaning regulation, with unexpected side effects in situations like ours where we basically have to complete some specific tasks, and where the bottom line is that no one really cares how much we actually have to work to achieve that. And nor should they.

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