Australians are working six weeks of unpaid overtime on average every year and missing out on more than $8000 in pay as a result, new research has found.
The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work has found unpaid overtime is costing the workforce $92bn each year – roughly the same as the commonwealth’s annual expenditure on health care.
The left-wing think tank surveyed a representative sample of 1410 Australians over three days in September, asking them about their working habits in order to analyse “time theft”.
Seven in 10 workers reported performing work outside of scheduled working hours, while only 29 per cent indicated that they had not done overtime.
On average, respondents reported working 4.3 hours of unpaid overtime in the week of the survey, equivalent to about 224.3 hours per year per worker on average or six standard 38-hour work weeks.
Full-time workers reported working on average 4.9 hours in unpaid overtime per week.
The two youngest age groups – those between 18-29 and 30-39 – performed the most unpaid overtime at 5.2 and 5.3 hours per week respectively.
The Australia Institute found the average worker was losing $8188 per year or $315 per fortnight in wages because they weren’t being paid for all the time that they worked.
More than half of workers – 56 per cent – were unsatisfied with their working hours, with 10 per cent wanting fewer paid hours and 46 per cent seeking more paid hours.
People in casual employment were much more likely to want to work more paid hours.
Report author Eliza Littleton said the prevalence of overtime suggested so-called “availability creep” was eroding the boundaries between work and life.
“With workers’ share of national income at the lowest point ever, a focus on reducing unpaid overtime would improve quality of life and ease the cost of living pressure for millions,” she said.
The release of the report comes as Queensland state school teachers have secured “right to disconnect’’ and ignore work calls and emails from principals and parents after school in their next enterprise agreement.
A senate committee examining work and care in Australia last month released an interim report recommending the government investigate changing the Fair Work Act to enshrine the “right to disconnect” for workers in every industry.
This amendment would protect people’s rights to disconnect from their job outside of contracted hours and enforce this right with their employer, including by appealing to the Fair Work Commission if necessary.
Workers’ wages and employment rights have been in the spotlight in recent months as Labor tries to get its contentious, wide-ranging industrial relations reforms through parliament.
The government says its Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill will “get wages moving again” by improving the enterprise bargaining system to make it easier for workers and employers to negotiate conditions.
But employer groups and the opposition have lashed most of the reforms – warning they will lead to widespread industrial action to the detriment of small businesses and allow unions undue influence in workplaces.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has been urging politicians to get behind the Bill, which it says is desperately needed as wages growth lags behind soaring inflation.
To bolster its position, the peak union body released its own report on wages on Tuesday that found workers in Tasmania earn on average about $10,000 a year less than people on the mainland.
Unions Tasmania secretary Jessica Munday said the “appalling” fact that Tasmanian workers’ wages wouldn’t catch up until some time in the next century at their current rate of growth highlighted that bargaining reforms were needed.
“The Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill will deliver meaningful change to our industrial relations system,” she said.
The Bill is set to be voted on in the Senate next week.
Labor doesn’t hold a majority in the upper house and needs the backing of The Greens and one crossbencher to get the legislation through.
Independent ACT senator David Pocock is expected to cast the deciding vote, but he is yet to reveal his position.