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Problems at work - No. 10: Unpaid overtime

As unpaid overtime 'tops £23bn mark', what can we do to tackle it?

Did you know that February 25th 2005 was the day the TUC said that people who do unpaid overtime will stop working for free and start to get paid? No? Well, that's because it didn't happen. On that day, dubbed “Work Your Proper Hours Day”, the TUC urged people who do unpaid overtime to take a proper dinner break and arrive and leave work on time. They claimed that this would remind Britain's employers just how much they depend on the good will and voluntary extra work of their staff. Didn't work though, did it?

Despite an “intense PR campaign” no-one seems to have even heard about it, much less taken part. Apparently, it will be an annual event. As the TUC Head of Campaigns, Nigel Stanley said, “This is not a confrontational campaign”. Of course not; we can't be antagonistic towards our bosses can we?

No doubt unpaid overtime needs tacking. It is an increasing problem as the continuing casualisation of the workplace, the hiving off of work to private firms and the voluntary sector, and the decline of workplace organisation allows bosses to introduce ‘flexible working patterns'. That means we workers are expected to work until the job is finished regardless of whether or not that exceeds our paid hours.

Workers who did unpaid overtime in 2004 would have each earned £4,650 for their efforts if they had received a wage. This doesn't include those who work unsocial hours and yet are paid only a basic wage and not overtime payments. The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said, “Most people do not mind putting in some extra time when there's a crisis or an unexpected rush” …trouble is - this has become the norm. We are not going to stop it with futile gestures like the Work Your Proper Hours Day. The only way is to get organised together with fellow workers and stop doing it.

So let's support each other and refuse to work for nothing. Whether for time in lieu that never arrives because there is always new work to do, cover for those off sick, or for un-filled vacancies. The bosses don't pay us enough as it is, let's not give them our labour for free.

Write in for a full & frank answer to a problem at work, or contact the ansaphone helpline for advice - 07984 675 281 Catalyst, SF, PO Box 29, SW PDO, Manchester M15 5HW solfed@solfed.org.uk

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