Formula 1 and the Working Time Directive

FORMULA 1 teams are such efficient organizations that even the USA's National Aeronautics and Space Administration is hoping to learn from their management techniques. A delegation from the British motorsport industry visited NASA a couple of months ago to try to convince the Americans to trade technology for motor racing's management secrets.

The answer is simple. Hard work.

That is the reason that this summer Formula 1 teams are being given a week off in the midsummer to allow some of the personnel to have a holiday.

To illustrate the need for this the Reuters newsagency this week interviewed British American Racing's team manager Ron Meadows.

"My average working week for a race week is 110 hours," he was quoted as saying. "Sometimes it might be 98 or 115. The norm is we do 10 or 12 hour days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It then gets into 18-hour days until Sunday night and you won't get back home until two in the morning on Monday."

This is heroic stuff but there is a danger in that the teams will get into trouble because of new European regulations which restrict the amount of time people are allowed to work.

In 1993 the European Union agreed on a directive which was designed to stop workers being exploited. The EU's Working Time Directive restricted the number of hours workers are allowed to do and insisted that everyone gets 11 consecutive hours off every day. They cannot work more than 48 hours a week and must be given at least four weeks of paid leave each year.

Eleven of the 12 member states voted in favor of the directive. The United Kingdom did not. But a UK challenge before the European Court of Justice failed and in the summer of 1998 the Working Time Regulations came into force. It included a clause which allowed individual workers to opt out of the system - if they chose to do so. There were a number of jobs which were exempt from the original Working Time Directive, including those working as doctors, in the transportation industries and at sea.

For some years the bureaucrats in Brussels have been trying to extend the directive and in April last year they succeeded. If all goes to plan "opting out" will soon be banned.

It would be bad news for Formula 1 teams if any of them were paying any attention to the existing legislation. Our research has revealed that no F1 team has become involved in "opting out" - but it has not stopped the workers putting in the hours and creating an industry for which Britain can justifiably be proud.

To date the British authorities have stayed away. One F1 team was quietly investigated by the Department of Employment last year but nothing came of it.

Formula 1 is not above the law but the British at least accept that F1 is not an abusive business. Everyone involved in the sport wants to work and they know that to be successful they have to. Teams argue that no-one is being forced to do what they are doing and point out that competition for staff is vicious. This means that teams not only have to pay more for their staff but they have to offer incentives as well. There are generous medical insurance benefits, pensions contributions and even car-leasing deals. And teams have impressive bonus schemes. Last year even the McLaren cleaning ladies went home with an extra $4000 in bonuses.

But the teams know that it only takes one zealous bureaucrat to upturn the whole system and so they have been quietly increasing the numbers of people to provide for proper shifts for the manufacturing staff. Some have turned to subcontractors to do the work. It is reckoned that work hours in F1 have come down by around 20% in recent years.

But when it comes to the racing teams there is no way around the problem. The teams work extraordinary hours for sustained periods of time and they love doing it. And you cannot legislate against that!

"You cannot make laws about how much a person has to sleep," said one team boss. "So how can you make laws stopping people who want to work?"

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