Unions NSW wants an end to forced unpaid overtime

June 18, 2024
Retail and Fast Food Workers Union members protest Coles and Woolworths profiteering last November. Photo: Larissa Waters/Facebook

Australian workers do more overtime than almost any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nation, a new survey for Unions New South Wales has found.

It amounts to average of $21,500 in unpaid labour a year.

Some 86% of the 5000 workers surveyed reported doing unpaid overtime every week.

They worked nine hours of extra work each week, on average, equating to more than 11 weeks of unpaid labour a year.

The survey found that workers performed an average 1.5 hours of unpaid overtime every day: 77% noted that the unpaid overtime was having a negative impact on their lives.

For those on an average yearly income of $96,660, the financial value of the unpaid work is $21,563.

The report found that this practice is not confined to those on high incomes.

Workers earning less than $70,000 a year undertake 7.3 hours of unpaid work a week.

Those earning $110,000-$130,000 a year perform more overtime: 12 hours a week.

Union NSW said while part-time and casual workers perform less overtime than full-time staff, they still undertake around 6.5 hours a week.

The Fair Work Act allows for workers to work more than 38 hours a week for no extra pay if the “additional hours are reasonable”.

Unions NSW wants this changed to make bosses pay for overtime worked for workers earning less than the high income threshold — currently $162,000 a year.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said on June 13 the cost-of-living crisis means the changes are urgent.

He said the huge extent of unpaid overtime “reveals how employers have become accustomed to expect it”.

“More often than not, workers are required to work through lunch breaks, turn up early and finish late, and put in extra hours on the weekend.”

He said this is affecting workers physical and mental well-being and prevents them spending time with their families and contributing to their communities.

“Fears of reprisal, missing out on promotion and threats from employers to give staff a worse roster all prevent workers from leaving on time.”

He said the Fair Work Act’s “supposed limitation on overtime is completely failing”.

The study is the first large scale survey into the quantum and impact of unpaid overtime. The report said unpaid overtime has been justified as “a trade-off for higher salaried wages, or a necessity for junior employees in professional occupations with potential for high bonus or promotion opportunities”.

However, the findings challenge this justification.

The report makes five recommendations:

• Re-introduce the 38-hour week and a legal protection for employees to refuse to perform unpaid overtime.

• Improve employer-record keeping obligations.

The Fair Work Act requires employers to record the amount of paid overtime to their workers which should extend to require employers record the amount of unpaid overtime their employees perform.

• Introduce transparent employer reporting requirements.

Employers should be required to report annually on the amount of overtime, paid and unpaid, staff have performed.

• Mandatory paid volunteer/social support leave.

All employees have 100 hours paid leave a year for volunteering at a not-for-profit, community or social justice organisation.

• Increase the mandated four to five weeks annual leave for all workers.

A standardised week of additional leave would also start to redress the work-life imbalance experienced by the majority of workers.

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