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More than 5 million UK workers put in a total of 2 billion unpaid hours in 2019.
The average person doing unpaid overtime has worked the year so far for free.
Right to work reasonable hours must be protected in EU deal, says TUC.

UK employers claimed £35 billion of free labour last year because of workers’ doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis of official statistics published today (Friday) by the TUC.

More than 5 million people put in an average of 7.6 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2019. On average, that’s equivalent to having £6,828 taken out of individual pay packets.

Today is the TUC’s 16th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day, marking the fact that the average person doing unpaid overtime has effectively worked this year so far for free.

As Britain begins trade negotiations with the EU, the TUC is calling for UK workers’ rights – including the Working Time Directive – to be protected in any deal.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The government needs to crack down on Britain’s long hours culture. Too many bosses are getting away with stealing their workers’ time.

“But instead of strengthening protections, ministers want to use Brexit as an excuse to chuck out the limited protections we already have.

“Overworking staff hurts productivity, leaves workers’ stressed and exhausted and eats into time that should be spent with family and friends.

“That’s why any EU Trade deal needs to guarantee that employment rights, like those covered by the Working Time Directive, are protected in the future.”

Editors note

To mark Work Your Proper Hours Day, the TUC is encouraging workers to take a proper lunch break and leave on time. Employers should adopt good practice and take steps to manage down unpaid overtime hours.

  • The TUC is calling for any trade deal with the EU to maintain workers’ existing rights and establish a level playing field so that British workers’ rights do not fall behind those of other European workers.
  • The EU Working Time Directive was adopted by the UK in November 1998. It stipulates an average limit of 48 hours on maximum weekly working time, which is usually calculated over 17 weeks. There’s an opt-out clause for individual workers, although the TUC has argued that this provision has been widely abused.
  • Brexit-supporting politicians, including the prime minister, have repeatedly questioned the value of the Working Time Directive. See here and here.

Key findings

  • Gender: The TUC study reveals that men work just over a billion unpaid overtime hours a year, (1,089 million hours) compared to 0.94 billion hours for women (941 million hours). More than 1 in 6 (18.3%) men work unpaid overtime, averaging 8.2 hours per week. A similar percentage of women (18.8%) also put in unpaid hours. Even though many women work part-time the average for those undertaking unpaid overtime is 7.0 hours a week.
  • Public sector: 1 in 4 public sector employees (25.0%) worked unpaid overtime, compared to around 1 in 6 employees in the private sector (16.4%). Public sector workers contributed £13.2 billion of unpaid overtime last year. Public sector employees make up just a quarter (25.4%) of total employees but produce more than a third (35.1%) of all unpaid overtime.
  • Occupations: Chief executives work the most unpaid hours on average each week (12.5 hours), followed by teachers and educational professionals (11.9 hours).
  • Region: London relies most on free work, with almost 1 in 4 workers (24%) doing unpaid overtime, (compared to the national average of fewer than one in five (19%). Employees in London worked more than a third of a billion free hours (£385 million) last year. The South East is next, with 22% working unpaid overtime, while 19% in the South West and 18% in the Eastern Region and West Midlands are working free hours.
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