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Number of employees working unpaid overtime at record high

The number of employees who worked unpaid overtime hours last year was worth an extra £640 million to the economy every week, according to research.

Figures published today by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reveal more people than ever are working beyond their contracted hours – a total of 5.4 million workers in 2013.

The number is the highest since records began in 1998. It represents more than 21% of the UK workforce and accounts for an increase of 331,000 people on 2012.

The TUC also found the average amount of unpaid overtime worked per employee was now seven hours and 48 minutes, up from seven hours and 24 minutes in 2000.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the figures suggested employers should hire more staff to relieve workers of the extra hours.

“Staff don’t mind doing a few additional hours during busy periods, but too many employers take this goodwill for granted and forget to thank their staff,” O’Grady said.

“Further problems arise when those occasional extra hours become the norm and staff become overworked and underpaid.

“The many bosses who encourage long hours in the office should rethink their approach as stressed, overworked staff are often unhappy and unproductive.

“If there really is much too much work to go round, employers might want to consider taking on new staff,” she continued.

“There are 2.3 million unemployed people across the UK who would be glad of the chance.”

But a chief economist at The Work Foundation, Ian Brinkley, said the TUC’s analysis was too simplistic as it took for granted that some workers voluntarily worked extra hours.

“We need a more nuanced analysis than that presented in the TUC’s figures,” said Brinkley.

“For some people, the extra hours will be involuntary and resented. This is either because understaffing is throwing more pressure on the remaining people or because high levels of job insecurity mean people are reluctant to say 'no', especially in workplaces where working beyond contracted time is the expected norm.

“But for others, extra hours will be voluntary and an accepted part of the job by both sides, whatever the contract may say,” he continued.

“The vast majority of employees are highly committed to their organisation and to their job and many say they are ready to go the extra mile.

“Some of this goodwill may indeed be exploited by some employers, but we should not lightly dismiss the willingness of people to do a bit extra in jobs that they enjoy or the satisfaction that it gives them.”

The research also suggested workers in education were the most likely to do unpaid overtime, with 38% of employees in this group working extra hours. The second most likely profession were people in professional, scientific and technical positions, at 33%.

The TUC said the group most affected by working extra hours were aged between 40 and 50.