$100 billion in unpaid overtime shows working from home comes at a cost

Unpaid overtime is increasing, according to a new report.

Unpaid overtime is increasing, according to a new report.

Australians are working more than five hours of unpaid work every week, according to new research that put the annual figure of unpaid work at nearly $100 billion.

For many, the reality of working from home this year has actually meant living at work, with 70 per cent of those ‘working from home’ pulling more hours than they would in the office.

The Centre for Future Work’s 12th annual Go Home on Time Day report shows Australians did $98.6 billion worth of unpaid overtime.

In total, that’s the equivalent of seven weeks of full-time work per person.

The survey showed the rates of unpaid overtime is increasing, with the average employee working 5.24 hours of overtime each week this year, compared to 4.6 in 2019.

It found that despite high levels of overtime, the Australian labour market is increasingly polarised with 44 per cent of part-time employees and 53 per cent of casual employees saying they want more hours.

Economist at the Centre for Future Work and report author, Dan Nahum, said ‘time theft’ in the labour market was on the rise.

“This year our annual survey of working hours has highlighted an insidious trend: Even when you are ‘home’, unpaid overtime is still rife,” Mr Nahum said.

“COVID-19 has clearly heightened the challenge facing workers of balancing their paid jobs with their responsibilities at home.

“Our research shows that working from home is no panacea for this balancing act – in fact, in some ways it makes the problem harder.”

The report found many Australians are feeling more pressure, with 21 per cent of workers indicating their employers’ expectations of their availability had increased during the COVID-19 crisis.

Men are more likely to get flexibility from their employer. Photo: Getty

“One-third of workers indicated that post-COVID, they expect to work from home more,” Mr Nahum said.

“But without adequate rules and protections this risks a further incursion of work into people’s personal time, poorer health and safety standards, and greater polarisation between those jobs that can be conducted from home and those that cannot.”

The Fair Work Act is meant to protect workers from overtime by limiting the maximum hours of work to 38 hours a week. It allows workers to refuse extra hours if the requests are ‘unreasonable’.

But the law does not contain a definition of ‘unreasonable’, instead offering a list of factors to consider including the usual patterns of work in the industry.

On top of an increase in ‘time theft’ – responsibilities in people’s home lives have increased during the pandemic, the report found.

But the research said men were more likely to get flexibility from their employer and retain the same pay (57 per cent of men with increased caring responsibilities) than women (39 per cent).

Australia was in a position to strengthen workplace protections and ensure workers have the flexibility they need and are paid properly for their time, the report said.

“To end the epidemic of ‘time theft’ and unpaid overtime, regulators must enforce existing rules regarding maximum hours of work on a more consistent basis, and provide workers with more choice to refuse overtime and work shorter hours,” it read.

Beyond Blue lead clinical adviser Dr Grant Blashki said working overtime could have a huge impact on your health.

“The ABS has found five million of the 7.9 million full-time workers do more than 40 hours per week and 1.6 million do more than 50 hours,” Dr Blashki said.

“What I see as a GP is when people working where there are over-ambitious deadlines or impossible workloads it definitely impacts on their mental wellbeing. They get very stressed.”

He said there was “no doubt” people working from home were struggling to switch off when they finished for the day and said it was up to employers to set realistic workloads for their staff.

“People also need to know it’s OK to say no if they’re at capacity and encourage people to still take holiday leave,” he said.

“And if you’re getting moody or have poor performance, you can go to your GP and do a mental health plan. There is lots of help out there.”

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