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Workers clocked up £26bn worth of unpaid overtime in 2023

Workers clocked up £26bn worth of unpaid overtime in 2023
Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Millions of workers are doing unpaid overtime, giving employers billions of pounds of free labour, according to research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The union has declared today ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’ – when workers are encouraged to take their lunch break and finish on time. Managers are encouraged to support staff by setting reasonable workloads and putting in place workplace policies to protect against burnout.

Analysis found that unpaid overtime is more common in the public sector, with teachers doing more than any other job.

According to the TUC, unpaid overtime is a problem for millions of workers: 3.8 million people did unpaid overtime in 2023, putting in an average of 7.2 unpaid hours per week. For those workers, that’s equivalent on average to £7,200 per year of wages going unpaid for work done.

Unpaid overtime is more common in the public sector: one in six public sector workers (16.7%) did unpaid overtime in 2023, compared to one in nine (11.9%) in the private sector.

‘When they don’t record it, they don’t pay it’

In 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that employers should establish an “objective, reliable and accessible system” for recording hours.

This ruling was binding on the UK. But the TUC says that when the Conservative Government had the opportunity to strengthen requirements on employers with the Retained EU Law Act, ministers retained the UK’s far weaker rules, and employers are only required to keep “adequate” records of hours worked.

Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, said: “We’re encouraging every worker to take their lunch break and finish on time today. And we know that the best employers will support them doing that.

“Most workers don’t mind putting in extra hours from time to time, but they should be paid for it. Part of the problem is that some employers fail to record the overtime staff do. And when they don’t record it, they don’t pay it.

“Conservative ministers know about this problem, but they refuse to tighten the rules on employers’ records. That’s not good enough. Working people deserve a Government that is on their side.

“We all depend on public services. But they’ve been run down by Conservative cuts and mismanagement. That’s why public sector workers do so much unpaid overtime. They are going flat-out to provide the services families rely on. But burnout and staff retention are big problems.

“None of us can afford to go on like this. The Government must fix pay and conditions for public sector staff, instead of relying on the goodwill of workers who are burning out. That’s the only way we can rebuild our public services to the decent standard that we all need.”

Related: Nearly a fifth of UK employees work an extra two hours every day