The Guardian • Issue #2081

Seven weeks work on no pay

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2081
Women at work.

Etching: Rini Templeton

Despite record-low unemployment, Australian employers are still managing to steal more than 280 hours from their employees each year.

That’s the finding of the Australia Institute’s 2023 report, Short Changed, tracking annual work hours and unpaid overtime for ‘Go Home On Time Day’ on 22 November. It has also found the average worker is losing out on $11,055 a year, or $425 a fortnight, to unpaid overtime.

The Australia Institute surveyed 1640 people between 29 August and 6 September. Of those, 61 per cent were in paid work:

  • Employees reported doing an average of 5.4 hours of unpaid work a week overall
  • Full-time employees perform an average of 6.2 hours, and casuals or part-timers four hours
  • Workers aged 18 to 29 do the most unpaid overtime (7.4 hours) a week
  • This ‘time theft’ equates to 281 hours a year or seven standard 38-hour weeks spent working for free
  • Australian employees are losing a cumulative $131 billion to unpaid work a year
  • Nearly half (46 per cent) are not satisfied with the amount of paid work they’re doing and either want more or fewer hours:
  • A third of all workers want more paid hours (35 per cent), but this rises to 54 per cent for under-30s
  • Half of casuals (49 per cent) and of two in five part-timers (40 per cent) would like more paid hours
  • Another 11 per cent of all workers would like fewer paid hours.

“This survey shows just how uneven the labour market is. We’ve got many workers, especially casuals in insecure jobs, wanting more hours. At the same time, employers are more likely to demand long hours, including large amounts of unpaid overtime, from full-time workers,” Dr Fiona Macdonald, Policy Director, Industrial and Social at the Centre for Future Work said.

“Record-low unemployment should have pushed both satisfaction with working hours and paid hours higher as employers scrambled to fill labour shortages. Instead, ‘time theft’ has actually blown out by 57 hours per worker since 2022 and has returned to near pandemic-era levels.

“This dispels simplistic arguments that workers have the upper hand on employers because of recent industrial relations reforms. In fact, we’ve seen workers agree to more hours due to the cost of living crunch. Perversely, this has resulted in employees giving their bosses a free kick because many of those hours end up being unpaid.

“Providing more protections for workers in these insecure positions, as proposed in the Closing Loopholes legislation currently before parliament, is an important priority for improving Australian labour market outcomes.”

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