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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 13:04 GMT
Workers gift 23bn of free work
A surgeon
Doctors: 9.7 hours unpaid overtime a week
British workers are giving away the equivalent of 23bn of free work every year through unpaid overtime, according to research from the TUC.

More than five million workers do unpaid overtime work beyond their contracted hours, the body said.

Top of the list are senior civil servants, teachers, farm managers and health professionals such as doctors.

As part of a TUC campaign to highlight long hours, a new league table allows workers to compare unpaid overtime.

Proper hours

The league table has been released in the run up to the TUC's "Work Your Proper Hours Day" on 27 February.

Teachers work more unpaid hours than doctors
Farm staff do 39% less "free" overtime than their bosses
Plumbers work more unpaid hours than estate agents

Source: TUC

According to the TUC, this is the date when the average UK worker who does unpaid overtime finishes the 40 unpaid days they do every year and starts earning for themselves.

However, some workers have much longer to work before they start working for themselves.

Top civil servants, the group that do the longest unpaid overtime, must wait until 27 March.

Teachers, who are the second worst-off in the unpaid overtime stakes, must wait until 24 March.

The side-effects of long hours, such as stress and ill-health, can be very damaging for workers.

Long hours can also wreck relationships and make caring for children more difficult, the TUC said.

It wants workers to vote with their feet on 27 February and work only their proper contracted hours.

"We're not calling on Britain to turn into a nation of clock-watchers," said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

"But too many of Britain's bosses who depend on the unpaid overtime of their staff take it for granted and never show their appreciation."

Work slaves

Britain's love affair with long hours is not necessarily paying dividends, and going home on time could be good for the economy.

It is an often cited statistic that workers in the UK work the longest hours in Europe.

However, British workers are not as productive as employees in other countries, when assessed on output per hour.

In France, many employees work a maximum 35-hour week but achieve a higher rate of productivity.

Recently released figures from the Office for National Statistics show France is 31.7% and Germany 16.4% more productive by hour than Britain.

Are you fed up of working unpaid overtime, or are you paid for any extra work you do? Are long hours necessary, or is there an overtime obsession in your office? Send in your comments:

I used to work in a High Street bank. You would think a place like that would be service oriented, but it was all sales. I wouldn't have minded but the targets were so high that to even come close to succeeding you had to stay two or three hours at night and often did not have a lunch hour. All this for little over 10,000. The stress was too much and I nearly had a breakdown. It just isn't healthy or worth it.
Michelle, Norwich, England

I work in an office where there are a few people who cannot be dissuaded from working long hours. Not because they need to but because they plan their work badly, take on things which aren't their responsibility or simply pad out the job to make it last hours. I can only assume they hate their home lives so much that they find excuses to stay in the office or are too bad at their jobs to plan and organise properly.
Jo, Brighton, UK

For a lot of people, overtime means just being in the workplace and doing very little, while making sure the boss sees you are staying late
Elisa, Italy

I work in the City and see the machismo culture of being seen to put in more hours. Personally I want to be judged on my output rather than how long I have spent at my desk trying to look busy. The sad aspect of it is the people who genuinely think that if they are always seen at their desk they will get a good bonus. When times are good they do, but so do others. When times are bad they give up that much of their life for nothing.
John B, UK

It is an illusion that more hours means more work. All you get is tired and stressed workers who hate their employers. Workers are putting in too many hours, and it needs addressing. It's bad for workers, their families and the country.
Vince, UK

I work for a computer games company where unfortunately unpaid overtime comes as 'part of the job' People have clocked up 600 to 700 hours of unpaid overtime in a year. It is expected of you and those who get their work done on time and leave on time each day are penalised for not "going the extra mile." There is a serious and unnecessary overtime obsession.
Name withheld, London UK

I have been keeping track of my hours for just over six years now, and during that period, I reckon I have given my company nearly 40 weeks of my time for nothing. I now keep my hours much closer to 35 than the 45 I used to do. Giving the company this free time doesn't really buy you anything worthwhile in the longer term - you may still be made redundant, you don't get any more pension, and you simply lose out on your own life!
Mark S. Farrar, Northampton, England

I have recently started work at a market research company and though I have not been subjected to doing overtime - yet (touch wood) I do know a colleague of mine who constantly works over her contracted hours. On the plus side she has recently been promoted but it is annoying when you are waiting around after 17:30 for things you asked someone to look at in the morning!
Name withheld, London, UK

I work 12-hour days, and most weekends. I only get about two weeks holiday a year, and even then I take my work with me. Why do I put up with it? I'm self-employed: I don't have a choice. I have to work hard because Labour's tax regime (50% with NI) means that everything I buy for my family costs twice what the price tag says. I'd love to employ someone to help me, but with all the paperwork, taxes and "rights" issues it's just not worth it. If you want this country to be more productive, cut the vicious circle of tax and spend, and encourage people to grow their own businesses without working for Gordon for five months of every year...
RS, Bath, UK

No-one ever went to the grave wishing they'd spent more time at the office
JM, London
For a lot of people, overtime means just being in the workplace and doing very little, while making sure the boss sees you are staying late.
Elisa, Italy

I've seen a lot of people in my job - I'm a teacher - have their home and personal lives wrecked because they do what is expected as normal and take work home and be doing it until 10 at night. It is a tragic waste of talented people and I bet teaching is not the worst area for this. With two young children I refuse to play this game (I don't take my ironing and washing up to work). Remember that to work without being paid for it is not professional. The difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional gets paid.
Mike, Durham, UK

I do hate the comment "Britain's love affair with long hours", most people work excessive hours because they are afraid of the sack or redundancy because they would be seen as "not pulling their weight". It's also true that many work environments are under-staffed, mine included, because the managers know any shortfall in available personnel will be made up by people working over-time; at their own expense. And, of course, when managers hit their targets because of the free hours provided by their employees, it's the managers who get all the rewards.
Lee, Gloucester, UK

We are paying very dearly for the new culture of having to work long hours to impress the boss and get a promotion or a wage rise. Our family life and our health suffer greatly. While the company we work for gets richer, we get poorer.
Anuska Pais, London

Most people work overtime because their employers are too tight to get two people to do the job. I have so many friends who were already working flat-out when their departments were cut and they were expected to pick up the extra work of the two or even three people who were made redundant. Just because the work is being done doesn't mean to say the quality is there, so it's very short-sighted of the employers.
Wendy, UK

No-one ever went to the grave wishing they'd spent more time at the office. You always have a choice. Use it.
JM, London, UK

My boss tries to encourage a "long hours" culture. Try leaving on time and you'll be met with "got something to do tonight then?" or "leaving early tonight?". I work to live - it's such a shame some people cannot understand this.
Dan, UK

Is everybody complaining in this forum about the hours they work going to make up the work time they spent doing so (and generally surfing the web, going on fag breaks, chatting to friends, etc.) by working unpaid overtime? If so are they then going to complain about having to do so? Are they going to speak to their bosses about it? Are they going to do anything 'practical' about the issue? Or, as I suspect, are they going to keep 'suffering' whilst bitching about it in private? If you want to work fewer hours then spend less time on personal matters at work, manage time better and speak to those in authority about the problem. Rational, reasoned argument works far better than idle, pointless sniping.
Name withheld, UK

I think the system they have here is far superior to the culture of unpaid overtime in the UK, quite often it is an old fashioned management style that dictates this "hours" rather than "performance" culture with bosses checking there watch if you leave at the proper time. I used to work in London and get into trouble for being late because of traffic etc. but was never thanked for all the extra hours That I did, it was even in my contract that I had a set number of hours, plus whatever was needed to complete the job. Here I am expected to do a certain amount of hours every year, I swipe in and out of the office on a card, and these hours are logged, I can take off the extra hours I do when business demands, when there is less work on. This means that the company has flexibility of me being available when really needed, but I can also leave an hour early on a Friday etc., if I need to, making life a lot less stressful.
DB, Basel, Switzerland

Teachers second on the list!! You must be joking!. How these people can claim to be badly paid and over worked when they only work 25 hours a week for 39 weeks a year is beyond me. I have two close friends, both of whom are teachers, and I know that the hours teachers claim to spend working at home (2-3 Hours a night) is rubbish. Teachers should work at least 9-5 every day and have 25 days off a year like those of us in industry. Maybe then the profession will assume more credibility.
Greg Smith, Andover, Hampshire

I used to work in a company where staying at least an hour late was "the norm". Leaving on time was not an option. People got promoted on how long they stayed at work, irrespective of the quality of work done. If expectations are set correctly of "getting the job done", then it should be up to the individual of whether they accept that and how (and when in the day) they achieve it.
Richard, UK

I left my old job in the city because I was expected to do up to 50 - 55 hours a week. I thought this was ridiculous because my contract stated that I would be working 35 hours per week and would be required to work overtime from 'time to time'. I was also not paid for any extra overtime. When I raised this with human resources and management they told me that this meant at least one hour a day of overtime and I would be in breach of my contract, according to the company lawyer, if I did not work this. I got so frustrated and fed up that I eventually left. So did many others. The employees who did stay and did not speak out where the ones with mortgages and children. It is appalling that companies can put you in such a situation, knowing that you have very little choice but to work on their terms.
Anonymous, London

I work on a flexi-time contract and this has to be the biggest benefit of my current job. I have to cover four core hours each day, but anything outside of this is flexible, providing I average 37 hours per week over a four-week period. This means I can have short days when I need them, e.g. for doctor's appointments, but I can also choose to do overtime and be safe in the knowledge that any extra time I accumulate can either compensate a short day or be taken as additional holiday entitlement. My employer, therefore, gets their full contracted hours out of me and I am much more motivated and productive at work. It's a simple concept, which benefits everybody.
Julie, Manchester, England

Having been made redundant I found a job at a dairy where I soon found that due to cost cutting (staff reduction) I was working 12 hour days and most weekends. The extra work was not reflected in my pay and I got no thanks from my manager. After 12 months I was totally stressed and not sleeping so for the first time in my life I resigned. I have now got a job on the same pay but work 9-5 with no weekends and my boss appreciates my work and life feels wonderful.
John, Manchester UK

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