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Work Your Proper Hours Day – let’s get tough on unpaid overtime

Published date
UK workers gave their employers £32 billion of free labour last year - a staggering total of two billion unpaid hours.
Young woman working late

Today is the TUC’s 15th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. For workers regularly doing unpaid overtime, today is effectively the first time in the year they’re getting paid.

For the five million workers who put in an average of 7.5 extra unpaid hours a week, this means missing out on an average of £6,517 a year.

It's time to get tough on excessive unpaid hours

Work Your Proper Hours Day is part of the battle against excessive unpaid overtime. Until now, the main focus has been on encouraging employers to adopt best practice as well as helping working people to know their rights and try taking their proper breaks and leaving on time.

These are still important things to do, but unpaid overtime is not falling fast enough. 18.2% of employees still work unpaid hours. This is down by 2.2 percentage points compared with 2003 but working people’s patience is rapidly running out.

The TUC launched a campaign for a 4-day week last year. Cracking down on unpaid overtime is one of the building blocks that will help us get to our fair working time goal.

A little bit of flexibility is fine. Most people don’t mind staying late occasionally to get a vital report finished or an urgent order out. The trouble comes when unpaid overtime is pushed to unreasonable lengths.

Excessive working time then squeezes out family, friends, hobbies, sports and involvement in the wider community, and can even put health at risk. Now we also must get tougher in enforcing the law 

Enforcing the law to limit unpaid hours

Both the National Minimum Wage and Working Time Regulations could help to reduce excessive unpaid hours, but they need to be better enforced.

Government should actively enforce statutory paid annual leave, rest breaks and the right not to work more than 48 hours a week on average.

At the moment the system simply doesn’t work. For example, local authorities have sole responsibility for enforcing the 48-hour week in shops and offices, but they can do nothing because they have no resources for this role.

These rights should be enforceable both by complaint to a government enforcement agency and by taking a case to an Employment Tribunal. This dual-channel system is already used to enforce the flagship national minimum wage (NMW) policy.

Government should also target low-paid salary work for national minimum wage enforcement.

Where employers require salaried staff to work extra hours, this time counts towards the NMW calculation. Too many extra hours can push low paid salaried workers below the NMW rate, and employers should pay more. However, this rule is not widely understood. HMRC enforce the NMW on complaint and target sectors in turn. They should now make low paid salaried work a priority.

What can you do?

On Work Your Proper Hours Day, try to take a proper lunch break and leave on time. If you’re a manager, you should consider how to move away from over-reliance on unpaid overtime.

Managers have the most to gain by cutting unpaid overtime and achieving more

efficient working, so talk to your colleagues about how to achieve it. If you really

can’t do it today, put it in your diary for next week.

But everyone needs to be part of the conversation about excessive unpaid work. So whatever work you do, we hope you’ll take the chance to talk to colleagues about making a change.

And if you haven’t already, get together with workmates and join a union. That’s the best way to get your voice heard and stop your boss breaking the rules.

Worried about your long hours? Try out our Unpaid Overtime Calculator to figure out how much money you’re missing out on each year

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