Attempts to reach an agreement on Europe's Working Time Directive have again failed despite lengthy talks in Brussels on Tuesday.
UK employers groups including the British Hospitality Association have welcomed the news, but the TUC union body said the failure to reach an agreement was "a missed opportunity".
The opt-out clause, which permits member states not to abide by a maximum 48-hour working week, was once again the main sticking point with the UK refusing to back down.
The Finnish presidency of the EU was the fifth to make an attempt at resolving the ongoing saga.
Hospitality employers would have been particularly hard hit by any restriction on working hours and Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the BHA, welcomed the retaining of the opt-out clause with "weary relief".
"I thought there was a chance that we might get an agreement this time," he said. "The opt-out can carry on for another 50 years as far as we are concerned. But we would like a settlement on the issue of on-call time (whether it applies to the 48 hour limit)."
The CBI said those who argued to end the opt-out did not understand the realities of the modern workplace.
John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: "The ability for individuals to opt out from the 48-hour working week is a vital part of the UK's flexible labour market.
"It gives employees choice in the hours they work, letting them earn extra money for their families and giving companies the flexibility they need to deliver to customers and compete in a global economy."
However, Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: "This was a missed opportunity to ensure that UK workers are properly protected against the dangers of over-work.
"The trend in the UK is now towards a slow decline in long-hours working. New legal rights would have speeded up that process without hitting economic success."
By Daniel Thomas