Thursday, January 04, 2007

The £23 billion unpaid overtime bill

From the Trades Union Congress (TUC) comes the news that British workers who do unpaid overtime work an average of seven hours six minutes extra a week. They would take home an extra £4,800 a year if they were paid the average wage for those unpaid hours. A TUC analysis of official statistics reveals that if everyone who works unpaid overtime did all their unpaid work at the start of the year, the first day they would get paid would be Friday 23 February. Altogether, across Britain people did £23 billion worth of unpaid overtime last year. Top of the exploitation list were workers in the North East, who put in 7 hours 42 minutes extra without pay, closely followed by employees in London, who gave their employers 7 hours 36 minutes labour a week for nothing. Let’s be clear: these extra, unpaid hours are a free lunch for employers. Their employees are adding value to the goods or services that are produced without any reward in the form of wages. It’s not so much wage slavery as unwaged slavery!

But wait, the brave leaders of the TUC are fighting back against the fact that not only do British employees work the longest hours in Europe but also spend a lot their time actually doing so for free. The TUC has declared 23 February "Work Your Proper Hours Day" with general secretary Brendan Barber saying that "employees should take a stand" and "for just one day a year take a full lunch break and go home on time". The TUC also thinks that employers should also use the day to say "thank you to staff for their unpaid work, perhaps by buying them lunch or an after-work coffee or cocktail". Yes, you can just see this happening, can’t you! Barber doesn’t want to alarm bosses by suggesting that the TUC is going to launch a militant campaign on unpaid hours. In fact he reassures them, declaring: "We do not want to turn Britain into a nation of clock watchers, and few mind putting in extra effort from time to time when it is needed." So for the TUC it’s just a question of employers being a bit more flexible and caring about their staff. What world does the TUC inhabit? Certainly not the real one, where working conditions have deteriorated under the impact of cut-throat market conditions in the globalised economy. Do the TUC understand the threat of outsourcing, offshoring, contracting out and other euphemisms for switching work to areas where labour is cheaper? Syrupy words from the TUC won’t make a jot of difference to the imposition of extra, unpaid hours. Capitalism and exploitation of labour go hand in hand and it’s getting worse for most workers. This self-evident truth goes completely unrecognised by Barber and his Congress House staff.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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