TUC research shows the number of employees working more than 48 hours per week has risen 15%

Tim Lezard Europe, UK,

hard working tired manThe number of people working excessive hours has risen by 15 per cent since 2010, according to a new TUC analysis published today.

The number of employees working more than 48 hours per week has now reached 3,417,000 – up by 453,000 since 2010 – following more than a decade of decline in long hours working.

Regularly working more than 48 hours per week is linked to a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease, stress, mental illness, strokes and diabetes. Illnesses caused by excessive working time put extra strain on the health service and the benefits system, as well as impacting on co-workers, friends and relatives. Many people are working unpaid overtime and at least a million report that they want to cut their excessive hours.

All areas of the UK have seen an increase in the number of long-hours workers. Yorkshire and the Humber has seen by far the biggest increase with 30 per cent (279,000) more employees working over 48 hours a week in 2015 than they were in 2010.

Workers in Wales (22 per cent increase) and London (21 per cent increase) have seen the next biggest increases in long hours working, followed by the East Midlands (18 per cent increase) and the North West (17 per cent increase).

Those working long hours are still disproportionately men (2,544,000 men compared to 873,000 women in 2015) but the number of women working 48 hour plus weeks has increased by 18 per cent since 2010, compared to a 15 per cent increase in the number of men.

The growth in long hours has impacted differently on various industries. The biggest increases have been in mining and quarrying (64 per cent), agriculture, fishing and forestry (43 per cent), accommodation and food services (36 per cent), health and social work (32 per cent) and education (31 per cent).

The TUC says that the government should reassess its negative view of the EU Working Time Directive, which has been brought into UK law and stipulates a 48 hour working week. Many long hours employees report that they feel pressured to ‘opt-out’ from the 48 hour limit as a condition of employment (individual opt-outs are currently allowed by law). The ‘opt-out’ from the 48 should be phased out over a few years.

Despite a growing workforce, the existing working time rules have helped to reduce long hours from 3.9 million (17 per cent) in Spring 1998 to 3.3 million (13 per cent) in 2007 and 3.0 million (12 per cent) in 2010. But the number has since increased and is back to 3.4 million (13 per cent). There is now a strong sense that the existing rules are too weak to beat the long-hours culture, leaving too many people stuck in ‘Burnout Britain’.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain’s long hours culture is hitting productivity and putting workers’ health at risk. Working more than 48 hours a week massively increases the risk of strokes, heart disease and diabetes.

“We need stronger rules around excessive working, not an opt-out of the Working Time Directive. David Cameron will not convince people to vote yes in the EU referendum if all he’s offering is ‘Burnout Britain’.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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