Unpaid Overtime Rife, Despite Shift to “Work from Home”

New research has revealed that almost three-quarters of Australians “working from home” are doing at least some of it in non-work-time. This has contributed to a substantial rise in the incidence of unpaid overtime this year, which now costs Australian workers almost $100 billion a year.

The Centre for Future Work’s 12th annual Go Home on Time Day report shows that, despite total work-hours falling and much of the workforce shifting to ‘work from home’, Australians are currently putting in an average 5.25 hours of unpaid work every week – the equivalent of 7 weeks of full-time work per person, per year.

The report calls for additional protections for people working from home, including limits on hours, overtime pay when relevant, allowances for extra home office expenses, and better OHS rules for home work.

Key Findings:

  • Even though total work hours have fallen, and much work has shifted to home, demands for unpaid overtime remain strong
    • On average, workers reported working 5.25 hours of unpaid work per week—an increase from 4.6 in 2019
    • This equates to 273 hours per year, or over 7 weeks of full-time work
    • At the economy-wide level, this equates to $98.6 billion in lost income
  • 70% of people doing work from home, are doing at least some of it non-work hours
  • 21% of workers indicated that their employers’ expectations of their availability had increased during the COVID-19 crisis
  • 28% of workers said their family and/or caring responsibilities had increased as a result of COVID-19
    • Of those employees who had additional caring responsibilities, 27% of men had not received time allowances from their employer to do so. But almost half (45%) of women had not—evidence of an increasing double burden for women
    • 16% of respondents whose employers made time allowances for caring responsibilities reported having lost pay if they were permitted to accommodate caring responsibilities
    • Men were more likely to get flexibility from their employer and retain the same pay (57% of men with increased caring responsibilities), compared to women (39%)

“This year our annual survey of working hours has highlighted an insidious trend: even when you are ‘home’, unpaid overtime is still rife,” said Dan Nahum, economist at the Centre for Future Work and author of the report.

“For many, the reality of working from home is more like living at work.

“One-third of workers indicated that, post-COVID, they expect to work from home more. But without adequate rules and protections, this risks a further incursion of work into people’s personal time, poorer health and safety standards, and greater polarisation between those jobs that can be conducted from home and those that cannot.

“Employers have a duty of care to the worker, regardless of the location of employment, so it is incredibly concerning—for both employers and employees—that 14% of people working from home indicated their home workspace was not appropriate or not safe.

“COVID-19 has clearly heightened the challenge facing workers of balancing their paid jobs, with their responsibilities at home. Our research shows that working from home is no panacea for this balancing act – in fact, in some ways it makes the problem harder.”

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