Unions concerned about extent of overtime among engineers

A survey by the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers has shown 68% of engineers work an average of 12 hours overtime every month. Unions are anxious this is having an adverse affect on workers’ productivity and creativity, and say increases in overtime may have a negative effect on companies when it is used as an alternative to taking on new employees. Another report shows that while overtime increased by 10% between 2009 and 2011, only 17% of all employees work any extra hours.

Overtime in Sweden

Overtime is classed as the number of working hours beyond the normal 40-hour week. In Sweden overtime is regulated by law and employees must not work more than 200 hours of overtime a year or 50 hours a month. However, the law also allows for companies and employees to renegotiate these rules, meaning overtime is effectively regulated by collective agreements.

In a recent report, the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO) investigated the amount of overtime worked in Sweden. The results indicate that only 17% of the country’s workforce does any overtime at all, an increase of 10% between 2009 and 2011. Employment increased by 3.1% during the same period.

Overtime among engineers

The Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Sveriges Ingenjörer) recently looked at the amount of overtime worked by its members during 2011. Of the members surveyed, 68% said they worked an average of 12.2 extra hours per week – which in Sweden translates to around 5,100 full-time jobs.

The structure of overtime is different for men and women and in different age groups. While 72% of male engineers regularly worked overtime, the figure for women was 59%. The main factor affecting the amount of overtime workers take on seems to be family life, with the fewest extra hours put in by employees in their 30s. Overtime increases until workers reach the age of 60 years, when it drops again. Employees under the age of 30 are also likely to work more overtime.

Overtime is most common in the private sector, but the average overtime of state employees is greater, at 14.2 hours per week. Employees in other parts of the public sector at county and municipal level also work overtime, but to a lesser degree and in smaller amounts.

Maria Arrefelt, Ombudsman at Sveriges Ingenjörer, felt the large amount of overtime put in by engineers was simply because they ‘have a very great interest in their jobs’. But she also believed that many, falsely, were under the impression that colleagues managed to do their jobs within the 40-hour working week.

Another finding of the survey is that an increasing number of engineers are opting out of overtime pay, and this is typically compensated by a higher salary and one extra week of annual leave.

Maria Arrefelt commented that opting out usually resulted in the employee losing out in the long term, since the 40 hours gained by an extra week of leave entitlement was usually quickly overtaken by the amount of overtime worked.

It is also not always recognised by companies that an agreement to opt out of overtime pay does not replace the rules for maximum overtime.

Social partners’ views

Trade unions in general oppose an extensive use of overtime, especially if it is a cause of stress at the workplace. The TCO is worried about the trend towards increasing overtime among its members, especially the unpaid overtime which is particularly common among white collar staff. Employer organisations do not disagree in principle, but see overtime as a necessary instrument to achieve flexibility, especially in times when it is difficult to recruit skilled labour.

Commentary

While overtime has become an increasingly important tool for achieving flexibility, in the long run large amounts of overtime may reduce workplace creativity – something which is particularly serious for engineering staff. There is also a tendency to increase the amount of overtime rather than taking on new employees. This can have negative effects on a company’s long term growth as opportunities to hire new staff are lost.

Mats Kullander, Oxford Research

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