A review of European rules on how long people should work for in any one week may end up seeing the UK's opt-out policy finally scrapped.
The UK government has said it will resist any EU attempt to stop allowing Britain to not implement a maximum 48-hour working week.
The European Commission has said it plans to reconsider the rules, nearly a year after the last attempt to get rid of the opt-out was defeated.
Consultations with trade unions and bosses' representatives are just preliminary and current law will not be changed for now, the commission said. It is not necessarily targeting the opt-out itself but the European Parliament is – MEPs voted decisively to scrap it in December 2008 despite EU governments wanting to keep it.
Labour MEPs defied Prime Minister Gordon Brown and voted against allowing any opt-out but the issue was never settled and the opt-out clause was kept purely by default.
The commission once vehemently opposed the opt-out but has now claimed that MEPs need to be "realistic" and acknowledge that many governments want the "flexibility" of people working for longer.
Most MEPs believe the opt-out is exploitative, as do the trade unions; they say workers need to be protected with fixed working hours.
"I agree forcing people to work hours is wrong however the opt out is voluntary, and I as well as many contractors rely on working maximum hours to gain a decent living wage on short term contracts. The EU should mind it's own business or provide full time employment with a decent wage, £5 something a joke! for working people in the UK" – Christian Ward, Portsmouth
"Yes, it is nothing short of forced labour and bullying if management try to make workers do more than 48 hrs a week against their will" – M White, South Wales