Home » News/Views » When the working never stops

When the working never stops

Last autumn the London Magazine branch of the National Union of Journalists carried out a survey of working hours. More than 10 per cent of the branch answered, a high response rate for a web-based survey. And the results show a disturbing pattern of excess and unremunerated working, along with a lack of awareness among employers and members about the law on working hours.

By and large, the problem does not lie in the number of hours laid down in contracts of employment. Fewer than 3.5 per cent of respondents had contractual hours of more than 40. It lies in a working life that for many effectively starts when they get up in the morning and finishes only when they go to bed.

Only a third said they “tend to leave around the end of [their] working hours”. The rest work longer, sometimes much longer. More than a third tend to work at least an hour a day, regularly. Another third tend to work between half an hour and 45 minutes extra, every day.

Breaks are an issue. Fewer than a third consistently take an hour for lunch – and even more say they eat while carrying on working at their desk. So much for “rights”: the law specifies a “minimum 20 minute rest break” in a 6-hour shift, but rights without union organisation are worth little.

A fifth of respondents based at an employer’s workplace said they “normally” work on the way to work. Slightly fewer, one in six, work on the way back home.

Most report working when they get home in the evening, with 30 per cent of respondents saying they regularly work at home on weekends and bank holidays.

According to the Working Time Regulations time spent travelling between home and the workplace is not counted as working time, but time spent travelling on other duties is. Yet more than a third of those who answered the section on foreign travel said time spent travelling was not treated as working time. Many routinely come straight into work after an overnight flight.

Remuneration for excess working seems to be a thing of the past. Only 5 out of 168 respondents reported getting paid overtime. More than 60 per cent get neither overtime pay nor time off in lieu. And only around one in seven “generally” take time off in lieu.

• Related article: Work longer hours, retire later