Unions highlight unpaid overtime

In January 2012 Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) issued figures indicating that UK workers performed unpaid overtime in 2011 that was the equivalent of one million additional jobs. The TUC is campaigning against persistent and excessive unpaid overtime, which it claims is holding back job creation while affecting workers’ health and family life. The TUC urges a change in work organisation, so that jobs are based on productivity and earnings from core hours.

Unpaid overtime figures

In January 2012 the Trades Union Congress (TUC) published an analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey (LFS), which found that nearly two billion hours of unpaid overtime were worked during 2011. According to the TUC’s calculations, in 2011:

• 5,256,000 employees (21.1% of the UK total) regularly worked unpaid hours in excess of their normal working hours;

• these employees worked a weekly average of 7.2 hours of unpaid overtime;

• if employees had been paid for these hours, they would have earned an additional £5,300 per year, on average;

• a total of 1,968 million unpaid overtime hours were worked, the equivalent of more than one million full-time jobs;

• the unpaid overtime was worth £29.2 billion to the UK economy.

The proportion of employees performing unpaid overtime remained virtually unchanged from 2010 to 2011, but has risen from 19.7% since 1992 (when 4.2 million regularly worked unpaid overtime).

‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’

The TUC has been campaigning over unpaid overtime since 2005. Each year, based on its calculations, it sets a ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’, which represents the date on which employees who regularly work unpaid overtime would start to be paid if they worked all their annual unpaid hours in a block at the start of the year. The 2012 date was identified as 24 February.

The TUC uses Work Your Proper Hours Day to provide information and advice aimed at reducing the number of unpaid hours, as well as to ‘celebrate the unsung and unpaid extra hours that millions of workers put in to help their employers, and which gives a huge boost to the UK economy’. In 2012, it called on employers to mark the occasion by ‘thanking staff for the extra hours they’re putting in’.

The TUC accepts that reducing unpaid overtime would not ‘translate precisely into extra jobs’, but is concerned that persistent and excessive hours of unpaid overtime are holding back job creation. The TUC’s General Secretary, Brendan Barber, commented:

While many of the extra unpaid hours worked could easily be reduced by changing work practices and ending the UK’s culture of pointless presenteeism, a small number of employers are exploiting staff by regularly forcing them to do excessive amounts of extra work for no extra pay. This attitude is not only bad for workers’ health, it’s bad for the economy too as it reduces productivity and holds back job creation.

He added that a ‘more sensible and grown-up attitude to working time’ could ‘cut out needless unpaid hours and help more people into work’.

Employers’ groups generally respond to the TUC’s annual campaign by calling its calculations simplistic, and claiming that employees working without pay beyond their normal hours are seeking to build their careers and demonstrating engagement, rather than being exploited. They also stress the value of flexible working arrangements and a good work-life balance. Commenting on the TUC’s 2012 campaign, David Lonsdale, the assistant director of CBI Scotland, said: ‘At the end of the day the job has to get done and if that means staff putting in extra time, then that’s what it takes in the tough economic world we are now in.’

Paid overtime declines

In contrast to unpaid overtime, paid overtime has declined sharply during the recent economic downturn, according to a further TUC analysis of LFS figures. In 2007, 4,693,000 employees regularly performed paid overtime, working an average of 11.2 paid additional hours a week, and the total weekly paid overtime worked across the UK economy stood at 54.5 million hours. In 2011, these figures fell to 3,868,000 employees (down 17.6%), 10.6 hours and 41.2 million hours (down 24.5%) respectively.

The TUC states that while an over-reliance on excessive overtime is not healthy for workers and much of it goes unpaid (see above), paid overtime remains an important source of income for millions of employees and a rise in its availability would be welcome. However, the unions hope that a future increase in the amount of available work will also mean firms taking on extra staff, and not just extra hours for existing workers.

The TUC believes the solution is a change in work organisation so that jobs are based on productivity and earnings from core hours, rather than ‘excessively long and insecure hours that can affect people’s health and family life’.

Mark Carley, IRRU/SPIRE Associates

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