Long-hours working on the rise again in UK
Lucy Ward, social affairs correspondent
Wednesday November 28, 2007
A culture of working long hours is on the rise once more in the
UK after a decade of gradual decline, according to figures today.
More than one in eight of the British workforce now work more
than 48 hours a week, the maximum allowed under the law unless
workers agree to waive that limit. The proportion rises to one
in six in London. The figures, highlighted by the TUC and extracted
from the latest Labour Force Survey, prompted warnings from campaigners
that children and family life risk being squeezed further.
The UK's working hours are among the longest in Europe. But there
has been a steady if slow fall in long-hours working since 1997.
The latest figures reverse that trend for the first time under
the Labour government, with 93,000 more people now working more
than 48 hours a week compared with 2006, taking the total to almost
three and a quarter million (3,242,000). The increase represents
a rise from 12.8% to 13.1% of the workforce.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called the numbers "disturbing"
and blamed a "hard core of bad employers" prepared to
flout laws intended to protect workers from excessive hours.
Under the European working time directive, workers are legally
not obliged to work more than 48 hours, though under a special
opt-out granted to the UK British employees are allowed to work
longer if they explicitly agree. In practice, according to the
TUC, a lack of enforcement means the directive is regularly ignored.
"Employers know that this is one employment right that they
can breach with little or no risk of any consequences," the
organisation said yesterday. The biggest increases in the number
of people working more than 48 hours are in the south-east (up
28,000 to 525,000) and in London (up 25,000 to 481,000). In the
capital, over 16% of the workforce works long hours.
Barber said: "These are very disturbing numbers. They suggest
that the slow, but at least steady, decline in those working more
than 48 hours a week has come to an end. Many employers recognise
that overworked staff are unproductive by introducing more flexibility
and better work-life balance, often under union pressure. But
it now looks as if their efforts are being undone by those who
don't care about long hours. No one should forget that 48 hours
is six eight-hour days, more than enough for anyone every week."
The TUC said the official figures are unlikely to include a proper
share of migrant workers and exclude those who live at their place
of work, such as some hotel and care staff.
Sarah Jackson, chief executive of the work-life balance campaign
group Working Families, said: "Let's not kid ourselves that
this is about people in high-pressure and highly paid City jobs
and think, OK, they are selling their time in return for fantastic
financial rewards. This is actually about people who are doing
basic jobs the rest of us depend on - and their hours are quite
clearly creeping up."