Unpaid overtime costs workers £25bn

Britain's infamous long hours culture is on the rise again, according to a survey from the TUC. The report finds that some 5m British workers are each giving away seven hours of unpaid overtime every week, costing them each £5,000 a year on average. That's a total of £25bn worth of work that's being done for free.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
TUC boss Brendan Barber was characteristically forthright. ‘That’s too much time and money that could be better spent with friends and family. Many people are not being paid for putting in those extra hours’ he said.

Using unpublished data from the ONS’s Labour Force Survey and Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, the TUC found the biggest increases in unpaid overtime were in Yorkshire and Humberside. However Londoners are the most generous to their employers, giving away almost eight hours a week each.
But the report raises more questions than it answers, the most obvious being the motivation for all this ‘philanthropic’ activity. The unspoken assumption behind the TUC stance is that people don’t want to do unpaid overtime and feel pressured into doing so. But we’re happy to bet that most MT readers have long since risen above this kind of petty accounting, if they ever indulged it in the first place, because they have their eyes on the bigger picture. And if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to clobber your promotion chances it’s being a clockwatcher.

For many of us these days the concept of ‘contracted hours’ is irrelevant these days anyway – what about time spent working on the train, at the airport, doing your emails at evenings and weekends?

But the really heretical thought that the TUC seems unprepared to even countenance is this. What if – whisper it - some, or even most, of those who work more than their ‘contracted’ hours do it because they actually want to? The fact that people might actually enjoy their work enough to do few extra hours just for the fun of it simply doesn’t compute.

Of course we realise that most employees are not in the privileged position of our readers, and don’t enjoy the kid of job mobility that you do. But in a way that’s exactly the point; this broad-brush survey makes far too many politically-tinted assumptions about what is happening in the nation’s workplaces to be genuinely insightful. It’s a shame, because a detailed look at what’s really going on might give the TUC and its member organisations some real meat to chew on. Then they could stop peddling these tired old ‘them and us’ myths which – unlike the world they purport to represent – have hardly changed since the industrial revolution.

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