Work and Life in a Pandemic

An Update on Hours of Work and Unpaid Overtime Under COVID-19
by Dan Nahum

2020 marks the twelfth annual Go Home on Time Day, an initiative of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute that shines a spotlight on overwork among Australians, including excessive overtime that is often unpaid.

It has been an extraordinary and difficult year, to say the least. Many workers are doing at least some of their work from home, and the standard scenario of ‘staying late at the office’ around which we have often shaped our Go Home On Time Day analysis in the past applies to fewer workers than usual. But that is not to say that workers aren’t doing work for free—in fact, the estimated incidence of ‘time theft’, or unpaid overtime, has gone up compared with 2019 (see our results here). And in many cases people’s responsibilities in their home lives have increased in response to the health and social crisis, accentuating the double burden faced by workers—and especially by women workers.

Survey data suggests the average Australian worker puts in 5.3 hours per week of unpaid overtime, despite the shift towards home work. Many employers expect this free labour as a sign of workers’ “dedication”, but it’s unfair and in many cases illegal. Across the whole labour market, this theft of workers’ time now amounts to almost three billion hours, or $100 billion, per year. In an environment of depressed household demand and purchasing power, this has extraordinarily damaging consequences throughout the economy—including throughout the business sector.

Additionally, 70% of people working at home are doing some of it outside of normal working hours. 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).

Full report