South West employers claimed £2 billion of 'free labour' last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis by the TUC.

It released the data on Friday-the TUC’s 19th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day.

On this day, workers are encouraged to finish their shifts on time.

And managers are encouraged to support staff by setting reasonable workloads and putting in place workplace policies to protect against burnout.

Main UK findings show 3.5 million people did unpaid overtime in 2022, putting in an average of 7.4 unpaid hours a week.

For those workers, that’s equivalent on average to £7,200 a year of wages going unpaid for work done.

Disruption from the pandemic has made it harder to understand longer-term trends in unpaid overtime. But the figures show that while most workers do not do unpaid overtime, it remains a persistent problem for millions of workers.

During 2022:

• Unpaid overtime was lower than in 2021: There was a small fall in both the number of workers doing unpaid overtime (down from 3.8 million in 2021) and how much unpaid overtime they do on average (down from 7.6 hours in 2021). This follows increases between 2020 and 2021. So there is no clear longer-term trend.

• Occupations with most unpaid overtime: As in previous years, teachers are high on the list. Managers and directors feature strongly, suggesting that the additional responsibilities of senior staff are not properly managed by employers. (See Table 2 in notes)

• Unpaid overtime is more common in the public sector: 1 in 7 public sector workers (14.8%) do unpaid overtime, compared to 1 in 9 (11.7%) in the private sector. The government claimed £8.6 billion worth of unpaid overtime from public sector staff last year – from an average of more than 8 million hours each week of unpaid overtime in our public services.

• Regional variation: London has the highest proportion of workers doing unpaid overtime, at 16.7%, compared to 12.5% nationally and 12.8% in the South West. (See Table 3 in notes) Working hour protections under threat The retained EU law bill, currently in the House of Lords, will automatically revoke all EU derived legislation at the end of this year. This includes working time protections that have been transposed into UK law from the EU working time directive.

The rights and protections under threat include:

• Maximum weekly working hours

• Daily rest breaks and weekly rest periods between work shifts

• Paid annual leave Ministers could decide to retain existing rules.

However, they have not yet provided a timetable for the legislation that is required. Nor have they published any draft regulations.

The TUC says that this makes it impossible to have confidence that working time protections will be protected in full without any watering down – or protected at all. The union body is calling for the retained EU law bill to be scrapped.

Other organisation calling for the bill to be scrapped include the Institute of Directors, and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

TUC Regional Secretary Ines Lage said: “Nobody minds putting in longer hours for time to time. But some workers in the South West put in thousands of pounds worth of unpaid overtime last year. Unpaid hours should never be a regular habit – that’s just exploitation.

“With staff shortages in many industries, work intensity and pressure to work longer days is a big problem. And the longstanding rights workers have to protect against working hour abuses are hanging by a thread.

“Whether you voted for Brexit or not, none of us voted to have our workplace protections taken away. Ministers should scrap the bill going through parliament that is putting these rights at risk.”