The UK’s workforce is being urged to take a proper lunch break and leave on time this Friday as a report claims staff lost £31bn in unpaid overtime last year.
The study by the TUC, to coincide with its Work Your Proper Hours Day, accuses employers of an “over-reliance” on the generosity of their workers.
Using figures from the Office for National Statistics, the union organisation calculated almost five million people worked an average 7.4 hours a week without pay during 2017 – worth an average of £6,265 per worker.
That sum meant they had effectively worked for free so far this year up until Friday, the report found, a time when household budgets have been damaged by inflation outpacing wage growth.
It said public sector employees accounted for 25% of total workers but produced almost 40% of all unpaid overtime.
While chief executives were found to be the biggest losers, the report found teachers and other learning professionals were the next group to do the most outside their usual hours.
Amid fierce debate more widely on gender pay, there was almost no difference between men and women with almost 20% of both sexes doing free overtime.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Lots of us are willing to put in a bit of extra time when it’s needed, but it’s a problem if it happens all the time.
“So today we’re saying to workers, make sure you take a proper lunch break and go home on time.
“We’re asking managers to leave on time too. Good bosses know that a long-hours culture doesn’t get good results, and the best way to lead is by example.”
Unison released a more angry response to the findings – saying they showed the pressure staff had been under following years of pay restraint following the financial crisis.
The union’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, said: “Public sector staff regularly work through their breaks and go home late, because they’re dedicated to the patients, students and local people who rely on them.
“But expecting employees to work above and beyond the call of duty, day in day out, is simply not on.
“With staffing shortages and wages failing to rise with the cost of living, morale in our public services is already at rock bottom. Overstretched and under-appreciated staff are at risk of burning out or giving up on a career in the public sector altogether.
“While managers need to ensure that staff work their proper hours, the government needs to give public sector workers the decent pay rise they all deserve.”