The TUC say that more than one in eight people now work more than 48 hours a week. This is the maximum allowed under the EU working time directive – but since UK workers are allowed to opt out of this, it’s widely considered to be about as useful as a chocolate fireplace.
The proportion has been declining steadily since Labour came to power in 1997, but according to the TUC it rose last year from 12.8% of the workforce to 13.1%. That’s more than three million people – almost half a million of whom are in London, where more than 16% of workers regularly exceed the 48 hour limit.
As you’d expect, the TUC thinks that evil bosses are to blame, arguing that ‘a hard core of bad employers’ are flouting the rules. General secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘Many employers recognise that overworked staff are unproductive by introducing more flexibility and better work-life balance, often under union pressure. But it now looks as if their efforts are being undone by those who don't care about long hours. There is undoubted abuse of the law, but employers know they can get away with it because it is rarely enforced.’
Doubtless some of these 3m people are doing the kind of jobs where you get big rewards for working longer hours. But there are clearly a lot of people who aren’t in this situation. In fact, the TUC reckons things are actually worse than the study suggests, because it probably doesn’t include enough migrant workers or those who live at their place of work.
Either way, the figures will make uncomfortable reading for the government. After making great play of his commitment to flexible working in the Queen’s Speech, the last thing Gordon Brown will want is for the work-life balance advances of recent years to be lost.
Perhaps the Prime Minister should start by setting a good example with his own colleagues? After all, if he sent some of his Cabinet home to bed a bit earlier every now and then, they might stop making so many cock-ups...