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We’re the opposite of slackers

by - 24th February 2012, 14.16 BST

If you’re one of the five million UK workers regularly putting in unpaid overtime, today is the day you finally start getting paid for all the hours you’re putting in.

The TUC has named today Work Your Proper Hours Day in your honour. Now in its eighth year, the campaign shines a light on the extra hours that millions of workers put in to help their employers and give a huge hidden boost to the economy.

Newspapers are always full of spurious surveys telling us how workers are always pulling sickies, taking time off to watch sport or not pulling their weight at work. But this picture of the UK being a nation of slackers is simply not true. People are committed to their jobs and regularly go that extra mile. In fact the two billion hours of unpaid overtime we do every year is worth a whopping £29.4bn to the UK economy.

This year we’ve focused on how unpaid overtime has changed over the last decade, and which groups of workers are doing more of it.

Workers in their late 30s are still the most likely to regularly work unpaid hours. This is no surprise as unpaid overtime is most commonly associated with management positions – relatively senior roles that people tend to get into in the middle of their careers.

However, over the last ten years there’s been a huge surge in the number of ‘older’ workers doing unpaid overtime. An extra 250,000 workers in their late 50s and early 60s are regularly putting in extra unpaid hours at work – a rise of over 30 per cent since 2001.

With workplace pension provision falling – new figures published today showed that just one in three private sector workers are now in an employer-backed scheme – fears of a loss of income are leading many older workers to delay their retirement plans. Older workers are holding onto management positions for longer than they did ten years ago. This means longer hours and more stress at a time when many people would rather be looking to reduce their hours.

Work Your Proper Hours Day is a light-hearted campaign with a simple call to action – take a proper lunch break and try to leave work on time for a change. But every year the TUC analysis highlights new and interesting trends, which raise interesting questions about working life in Britain today. The fact that older workers are doing so much more unpaid overtime than ten years says a lot about the changing nature of our labour market – and the paucity of pension provision that is causing people to work for far longer than they want to.

* Rob Holdsworth works in the TUC’s Campaigns and Communications Department