The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has spoken out in favour of more flexible working practices, saying that they could help businesses steer through the current economic downturn.

Speaking at the annual Work Wise UK summit, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned that there are indications that the culture of long-hours working is enjoying a comeback, along with unpaid overtime and long commuting distances.

He went on suggest that 175,000 more people worked in excess of 48 hours per week in 2007 than was the case in 2006.

Meanwhile, unpaid overtime in the UK is said to be worth a record £25 billion a year.

Mr Barber stated: "As we enter a period of economic uncertainty, it’s tempting for employers to retreat from innovative working practices and instead work existing staff harder and longer."

However, smarter working practices benefit firms through increased productivity, he added.

Research published recently by Work Wise UK and the AA indicated that workers in Britain spend an average of five years commuting to and from their place of work over the course of their careers.