Workers losing $21,000 a year in unpaid overtime: New report

Thursday, 13 June 2024

Australian workers perform an hour and half of unpaid overtime every day, amounting to a ‘gift’ of $21,000 per year from employees to the boss, according to a groundbreaking new report by Unions NSW.

The survey of 5,000 employees across multiple industries found 86 per cent of workers perform unpaid extra hours as part of their job and 77 per cent said unpaid overtime was having a negative impact on their life.

Respondents reported working nine hours of unpaid overtime each week on average, which amounts to 58 days or 11 weeks a year. For an average worker on a yearly income of $96,660, the financial value of this unpaid work is $21,563 per year.

“With so many unpaid working hours and a soaring cost of living, Australia is no longer the lucky country it once was,” said Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey.

The report found that overtime is not confined to those on high incomes, with staff earning less than $70,000 a year conducting 7.3 hours a week unpaid. Those earning $110,000-$130,000 per year perform the most overtime at 12 hours a week.

While part-time and casual workers perform less overtime than full-time staff, they still conduct around 6.5 hours a week.

Under the Fair Work Act, employees can be required to work more than 38 hours a week for no extra pay if the “additional hours are reasonable.” Unions NSW is calling for a change to require payment for overtime. This would apply to workers earning less than the high income threshold, currently $162,000 per year.

“The huge extent and severity of unpaid overtime reveals how employers have become accustomed to expect it from their staff,” said Mr Morey.

“More often than not, workers are required to work through lunch breaks, turn up early and finish late, and put in extra hours on the weekend.

“This is affecting their physical and mental wellbeing, preventing them from spending time with their families and contributing to their communities.

“Fears of reprisal, missing out on promotion, and threats from employers to give staff a worse roster all prevent workers from leaving on time.

“The Fair Work Act’s supposed limitation on overtime is completely failing and needs to be urgently updated to make sure workers are treated fairly and paid properly.”

Key findings

  • 86% of survey respondents reported working unpaid overtime each week
  • On average survey respondents reported working 9.08 hours of unpaid work each week.
  • In an average work year (48 weeks) this would represent 58.1 days or 11.6 weeks of unpaid work. The financial value of this unpaid work is $21,563 per year for an average worker on a yearly income of $96,660.
  • 70% of survey respondents reported working overtime on weekends. Almost half of this number reported that they worked more than two weekends per month.
  • The majority of survey respondents (64%) believe that refusing a request to perform unpaid overtime was career limiting. This figure increased to over 71% for those earning an annual salary above $110,000.
  • 77% of respondents believe working unpaid hours is having a negative impact on their life outside of work.

Note to editors: This study is the first time there has been large scale survey-based research into the quantum and impact of unpaid overtime on Australian workers. The research for this study occurred over the course of three months beginning in November 2023 and continuing to February 2024. During this period Unions NSW surveyed over 5,000 union and non-union workers.