UK workers put in £27 billion worth of unpaid overtime during the last year – TUC analysis

  • Today is ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’ when workers are encouraged to finish on time with the active support of their employers

UK employers claimed £27 billion of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis published today (Friday) by the 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.

Main findings and impact of the pandemic

3.8 million people did 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 done.

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%. (See Table 1 in notes)
  • 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. (See Table 2 in notes)
  • 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. (See Table 2 in notes)
  • Regional variation: London has the highest proportion of workers doing unpaid overtime, at 18.1%, compared to around 13.5% nationally. (See Table 3 in notes)

Working more for less

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.

In the public sector, overworking and excessive workloads are driven by a recruitment and retention crisis, exacerbated by a decade of government-imposed pay restraint.

The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • Urgently fix the recruitment and retention crisis in the public sector, working with unions on a fully-funded workforce strategy.
  • Support employers in sectors where there are skills shortages with more public funding for training and a ‘right to retrain’ for all workers so they can take up free training to reskill for available job opportunities.
  • Give working people stronger rights to organise collectively in unions and bargain with their employer to ensure that they have decent control over their working time.
  • Require employers and unions to negotiate sectoral Fair Pay Agreements for low paid sectors.
  • Bring forward the long-promised employment bill and strengthen protections against overworking and burnout, including a day-one right to flexible working.

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.

“The Chancellor should use his spring statement to set out plans to tackle labour shortages in public services, and to fund training where there are skills shortages. And he should come forward with a plan to get wages rising across the economy.”

Commenting on the spread of long hours amongst those working from home, Frances added:

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in unpaid hours worked at home. With homeworking expected to stay higher after the pandemic, it is important that employers respect rights to clock-off and switch-off at home. Ministers should help by bringing in new rights to flexible working for everyone, including a right to switch-off outside working hours.”

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