A report on unreasonable work hours
Suicide attempts, family breakdown and physical illness are just some of the effects that extreme working hours are having on families. The ACTU's current Reasonable Hours campaign for appropriate hours of work has been provided with powerful evidence of the devastating effect of excess work being forced onto Australia's workforce with the release of the report "Fifty Families". The report, from Adelaide University's Centre for Labour Research, documents the impact of longer working hours on more than 50 families, and the negative effect on the individual workers, families and local communities. The report's author Barbara Pocock said, "One of the most surprising aspects emerging from the research is the lack of control employees have over their hours of work and the low negotiating rights reported by many workers". Ms Pocock said many are not even being paid for the extra work. Why? Why do people work longer hours? Money is a major factor. "No one really likes doing seven days, but then you've got to look at the positive side of it. The money — what you do with the money." (Ada, electrician's partner) Understaffing: "There just aren't enough people here to do the job anymore."" The majority of workplaces in the study were effected in some way by two decades of workplace and industry restructuring. There are many accounts of fewer people doing more almost right across the board — manufacturing, construction, education, public service, postal, scientific, engineering, paramedical, health and airlines. Job protection: Doing extra hours out of fear. A significant group worked longer hours because they felt their "jobs were on the line" if they didn't agree to them. Others felt that their chances of promotion depended on their long hours of unpaid overtime, some having seen those who did not work overtime removed to undesirable jobs and sidelined. The "choice" of long hours. Many employees do not have the power to resist pressure to work long hours, whether that "requirement" is a direct request or arises — very commonly - - in an indirect way as a result of staffing levels and/or client, student or patient expectations and needs. Long hours and workplace power: "I feel powerless to say no." Some workers described how long hours take them from loving their jobs to hating them. Some decide to "drop back" to lesser skilled jobs, and take demotions to try and cut their hours. They give up the use of their skills. Many did not see the rates of pay for working such hours as adequate compensation for their efforts. Increasing expectations of unpaid hours: "Compulsory voluntary work". For some, unpaid overtime has become an entrenched and non-voluntary part of work. For example, work beyond the job description of their teaching role has always been an accepted aspect for teachers. The expectation comes from the school culture, and also from the teachers themselves who value this aspect of their work. Expectations surrounding unpaid "voluntary" work have increased. A case history: working long hours under pressure — Frank's story In Frank's case the factors forcing long hours are clearly exposed. Frank lives with his wife Bronwyn and they have young children. Frank has worked 50-60 hour weeks for long periods. He is on a contract that annualises salary, building in his overtime. He is expected to exercise his own skills as well as supervise others. "I used to spend an eight-hour day with the men, and then an hour before work and an hour after work of paperwork, so that was making it a nine-ten hour day five days a week, and a half a day Saturday, or all day Saturday. We were working extremely long hours, sometimes from six o'clock in the morning to eight o'clock at night. "Often I wouldn't have my lunch break because if you did it would be a cup of coffee and a sandwich at your desk while you were doing more paperwork. And it just got progressively more and more and more, just keeping on adding to our jobs ... and then one morning ... bang! "I actually went to work, and it was a really, really hot day and we had a seminar on health and safety for some reason. I got home about three o'clock in the afternoon, got away early, and I came in and I was really hot, really stinky, and my wife was on the phone with a friend. I came in and the kids were just playing — well, one was just born and the little bloke was just three and was playing, and I did my block. "I told my wife off. Had a go at my kid and then realised I was just tearing my hair out of my head." "And it was because I'd just had enough of it ... I'd started to bring work home — mentally — for months before that. Like on the weekend I'd come home from work on Saturday, or whatever it might be, and just lie in front of the TV and didn't want to talk to nobody, just wanted to be left alone. At night I'd be dreaming. Like, you'd be in bed and all you'd be doing is dreaming about work ... "... I was virtually suffering from severe panic attacks ... during work, at home. I saw something which I thought wasn't right, it'd create this panic attack where I'd feel hot and sweaty, very, very nervous, or agitated and it might last 20 minutes to an hour or two hours. And it got to the point I saw a doctor about it and he wanted me to go on medication — anti- depressants or whatever. I wasn't interested. "But then that day when I came home and blasted my wife and had a go at my kid — my wife, she rang the doctor and made an appointment and sent me down. And I remember breaking down and crying and going into the doctor's surgery and telling him what was going on and he gave me time off work immediately ..." Frank had a "very, very bad 8 to 12 months", including suicidal thoughts before being put on anti-depressant medication. Despite this severe experience, his employer shortly afterwards began asking Frank to extend his hours once more. He asked management to have someone help with the workload and was told "no, no you just keep going the way you're going and we'll see what happens "The way I feel, and the way a lot of people feel, we're more or less used, put on the scrap heap and then put aside. And then the next person will just come along and take your place. They've got no life. They only live to work. They expect you to be like them. I look at it: I work so I can live. I work so I can enjoy myself, not live so that I can just continually go to work."