Aussies Are Working More Unpaid Overtime Compared to Pre-Pandemic Levels

unpaid overtime pandemic australia

Lockdowns have been tough on everyone. With the shift to working from home, mental health concerns have been front and centre as the divide between work and life becomes increasingly blurred. As we move forward into our post-pandemic world, the office is unlikely to ever be the same again. More and more employers and employees are negotiating flexible working arrangements, with the standard office 9-5, Monday to Friday likely to be a thing of the past.

While there are undoubtedly benefits to these new flexible arrangements, there are certain drawbacks too. A recent study has found that Australians have been working on average an additional 1.5 hours of unpaid work each week over the course of the pandemic.

The findings are based on a poll of 1,600 people by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, showing that the average employed Australian works 6.13 hours unpaid each week in 2021. That’s up from 5.25 hours in 2020 and 4.62 hours in 2019.

The research was released to support Go Home on Time Day — a campaign that urges workers to push back against unpaid overtime and clock off when they should.

6.13 hours per week works out to 319 unpaid hours across the whole year or the equivalent of an additional eight full weeks of unpaid work. This means that employers benefit from an additional $125 billion in free labour, costing each individual worker $461.60 per fortnight.

Unpaid overtime can mean those who arrive at work early, stay late, worth through breaks, work nights and weekends, or take calls and answer emails out of office hours.

Young people are the most likely to do unpaid overtime, perhaps in a bid to appear dedicated to the company and prove their diligence, with those in the 19-29 age bracket working an average of 8.17 hours of additional unpaid work each week.

Lead author of the Centre for Future Work report, economist Dan Nahum, has said that the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have accelerated the “crisis” of unpaid labour and “time theft.”

“This year Australian workers are taking home a smaller share of GDP than we have ever seen before,” Nahum said.

“Yet, time-theft is rife and bosses are stealing record amounts of unpaid time from workers.”

Nahum explained that while working from home may have benefits to some employees, it has appeared to make it easier for employers to make more demands on their staff.

“Work-from-home does not necessarily improve work life in favour of employees,” he said. In fact, it appears to “undercut Australian minimum standards around hours, overtime, and penalty rates”.

“These are worker efforts that should end up as wages in someone’s pocket, not a boost to a profit column.”

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