Today is ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’ – when workers are encouraged to finish on time with the active support of their employers.

Vital rights to protect people against working time abuses are “hanging by a thread” due to the retained EU law bill, says TUC.

UK employers claimed £26 billion of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime, according to a new analysis published today (Friday) by the TUC.

Today is 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.

Unpaid overtime is far from uncommon

A staggering 3.5 million people did unpaid overtime in 2022, putting in an average of 7.4 unpaid hours a week. For those workers, that is 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.
  • Unpaid overtime is more common in the public sector: 1 in 7 public sector workers (14.8%) do unpaid overtime, compared to one in nine (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 percent, compared to 12.5 percent nationally.

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 are transposed into UK law from the EU working times 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 organisations calling for the bill to be scrapped include the Institute of Directors and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“Workers should get paid for the work they do. Nobody minds putting in longer hours from time to time. But employers shouldn’t rely on unpaid overtime – 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 that place safe limits on working time 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.”

On public sector overtime and the recruitment crisis, Paul added:

“Public sector workers put in more than 8 million hours a week of unpaid overtime. They can’t keep going on gratitude alone. Staff are becoming burnt out and leaving their professions.

“The first step to fixing the recruitment crisis is to give our public sector staff the pay rises they have earned – and that they need to keep them out of foodbanks. This will help us hold on to the people keeping our schools, hospitals and other vital services running.

“Ministers must also set out plans to speed up recruitment to fill vacancies, so that the existing staff are not left working unpaid overtime to fill the gaps.”





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.