UK workers put in £27bn of free overtime according to TUC

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UK workers put in £27 billion worth of unpaid overtime during the last year according to analysis published today by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Today is the TUC’s 18th annual ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’. On this day, workers are encouraged to finish their shifts on time. And managers are encouraged to support staff by setting reasonable workloads and putting in place workplace policies to protect against burnout.

According to the TUC analysis 3.8 million people carried out unpaid overtime in 2021, putting in an average of 7.6 unpaid hours a week. On average, that’s equivalent to £7,100 a year of wages going unpaid for work completed.

Disruption from the pandemic made it a second year of unusual working patterns, with many workers furloughed. This has made it harder to understand longer-term trends in unpaid overtime. But the figures show that promises to ‘build back better’ are not being fulfilled when it comes to workers being paid for all the hours they work.

During 2021:

  • Unpaid overtime was higher than in 2020: After a collapse in working hours during the first year of the pandemic, unpaid overtime has started to grow again in 2021. Between 2020 and 2021 the number of workers doing unpaid overtime grew by 427,000, and the proportion of workers doing unpaid overtime grew from 12.1% to 13.5%.
  • Occupations with most unpaid overtime: As in previous years, teachers are high on the list. The challenges of keeping schools open for the children of key workers, while providing home learning too, has kept up their work intensity. Managers and directors feature strongly, suggesting that the additional responsibilities of senior staff are not properly managed by employers.
  • Home workers: Most of the top 10 occupational groups for unpaid overtime are jobs likely to be possible to do from home. People who work from home are more likely to do unpaid overtime, while those who never work from home are more likely to do paid overtime.
  • Regional variation: The East Midlands has the highest number of average weekly hours of overtime, a reported 8.2 hours unpaid per week.

The TUC says the combination of labour shortages in parts of the economy and the cost of living crisis is likely to mean that many people are working more intensely for shrinking real pay packets.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Most of us are happy to put in some extra time when it’s needed, but we should get that time back when it’s quieter. Nobody should end up doing work they don’t get paid for.”

“So today we’re calling on people to take your full lunch break and go home on time. And we’re calling on managers to encourage their staff to finish on time and to lead by example.

“Britain is now facing both labour shortages and a cost of living crisis. If the government does not take action to supporter workers, they will end up working longer hours for less pay.”