Working From Home, or Living at Work? Hours of Work, Unpaid Overtime, and Working Arrangements Through COVID-19

2021 marks the thirteenth annual Go Home on Time Day, an initiative of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute focusing on overwork among Australians, including excessive overtime that is often unpaid.

As the health crisis of COVID-19 has continued, many workers are doing at least some of their work from home, and the standard scenario of workers ‘staying late at the workplace’, which largely framed our analysis in the past, is now supplemented by a different dimension of excessive work and unpaid overtime. This year’s report considers whether home work will become the “new normal” for many workers even after the acute phase of the pandemic finally passes – and what new pressures on working hours, work-life balance, and unpaid overtime are unleashed by the work-from-home phenomenon. The post-COVID rise in home work may constitute a further incursion of work into people’s personal time, and a further undercutting of Australia’s minimum standards around employment (including hours, overtime, and penalty rates).

Our survey found the average Australian employee puts in 6.1 hours per week of unpaid overtime, despite the shift towards home work. This is a substantial increase from 2020, which in turn was a substantial increase from 2019. In many cases, people’s responsibilities in their home lives have increased in response to the health and social crisis, accentuating a double burden of unpaid work – one that is experienced disproportionately by women.

This unpaid overtime costs the average employee $460 per fortnight, and is unfair and in many cases illegal. Across the whole labour market, this theft of workers' time amounts to a value of $125 billion per year. In a broader environment of stagnant wages and underemployment, this has extraordinarily damaging consequences throughout the economy—including suppressed consumer spending by households and increased financial insecurity.

At the same time, almost half of part-time and casual employees report wanting more paid hours. Even so, 20% of casual workers report that they would prefer to work fewer hours. There is a clear social and economic need to redistribute work from those preferring fewer hours to those who would prefer more.

This year, we also reviewed the use of electronic surveillance measures used by employers. 39% of workers indicated their employers were remotely monitoring their activity, with a further 17% indicating they were unsure whether they were being electronically monitored or not. The expansion of work into all areas of our lives (including our homes) has been accelerated by the growing use of electronic surveillance measures by employers, and the patchwork and inadequate regulation of those practices in Australia.

Please see the full reportWorking From Home, or Living at Work? Hours of Work, Unpaid Overtime, and Working Arrangements Through COVID-19, by Economist Dan Nahum.

And please visit the Go Home on Time Day website, where you can download posters, shareable graphics, and even a special "leave pass" to show your boss as you log off... on time!



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