Excessive Hours and Unpaid Overtime: 2018 Update

by Troy Henderson and Tom Swann

2018 marks the tenth annual Go Home on Time Day (GHOTD), an initiative of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute that shines a spotlight on overwork among Australians, including excessive overtime that is often unpaid.

Over many years, the Centre for Future Work and the Australia Institute have commissioned regular annual opinion polls to investigate overwork, unpaid overtime, and other instances of “time theft” in Australia. This year’s poll of 1459 Australians was conducted between September 17-26, with a sample that was nationally representative according to gender, age and state or territory.

Of the 1459 respondents, 880 (or 60 percent) were currently in paid work. That subsample was then asked several questions regarding their hours of work, whether they wanted more work or less, and whether they worked unpaid overtime in their jobs.

This report summarises the results of that polling, and places it in the context of national labour force trends:

  • There is growing evidence of a sharp polarisation in Australian employment patterns, between those with full-time, relatively secure jobs, and a growing portion working part-time, casual, temporary, or insecure positions.
  • In the survey, 54 percent were employed in permanent full-time jobs, while 46 percent were employed as part-time, casual or self-employed workers. In other words, almost half of the sample experienced one or more degrees of nonstandard or insecure work – broadly in line with the experience in the overall labour market.
  • Compared with last year, there was a significant increase in those wanting more paid hours (from 34 percent to 40 percent) and a decrease in those wanting fewer paid hours (from 19 percent to 15 percent). We believe this shift reflects the high levels of underemployment in Australia’s labour force, and the ongoing struggle of those in non-standard jobs to attain enough hours of work.
  • In the survey, 20 percent of full-time workers said they would prefer to work fewer hours, and 30 percent said they wanted more. 50 percent said their hours were about right.
  • By contrast, those in part-time or casual positions work far fewer and more uncertain hours, and most would prefer to work more – 54 percent of parttime workers and 63 percent of casual workers. This highlights the problems of underemployment and inadequate incomes experienced by the growing proportion of Australian workers in insecure jobs. Only 7 percent of part-time employees and 2 percent of casuals wanted fewer paid hours.
  • At the same time as many Australian workers report they would prefer more hours of paid work, the incidence of unpaid overtime is also growing: including coming in early, leaving late, working at home or on weekends, working through regular breaks and lunch hours, responding to calls or emails out of working hours, and more. Across all forms of employment, our respondents reported working an average of 6.0 hours of unpaid labour per week (up from an average of 5.1 hours in 2017 and 4.6 hours in 2016).
  • This translates into an annual average of 312 hours of unpaid overtime per worker per year across all forms of employment. Based on a standard 38-hour workweek, this is equivalent to more than 8 weeks (or 2 months) of unpaid work per worker per year.
  • Full-time workers reported the greatest incidence of unpaid overtime: on average 7.1 hours per week. This was a substantial increase from a reported 6 hours per week in last year’s survey.
  • Part-time workers worked on average 4.2 hours per week unpaid, while even casual workers worked on average 2.8 hours unpaid.
  • The aggregate value of this “time theft” is substantial. Across the workforce, we estimate the total value of unpaid overtime at $106 billion in 2018. This widespread non-payment for so much of Australians’ working time reduces family incomes, weakens consumer spending, and exacerbates the challenge of work-life balance.
  • In an era of wage stagnation, underemployment, insecure work and significant cost of living pressures, Australian workers cannot afford to give their time away to employers for free.

Full report