$110 billion Christmas present, from you to the boss

The festive season is looking very merry for Australian bosses. This year, workers clocked up unpaid overtime equivalent to a whopping $110 billion in stolen wages according to new estimates by the Australia Institute.

Walking the tightrope: have Australians achieved work/life balance? reveals that an average full time worker performs six hours of unpaid labour per week. The average Australian worker was short-changed $9,471 this year.

Unpaid hours represent 14.7 percent of all hours worked in Australia.

If these extra hours were converted into new jobs, the Institute estimates that unemployment could be totally wiped out.

While we are working thankless overtime, many part time and casual workers need more hours in order to meet the basic costs of living. In 2011, detailed research compiled by the Australian Council of Trade Unions found that there were more than 850,000 part time workers who were underemployed, subject to irregular and insecure wages and lacking any guarantee of a minimum amount of work per week.

The current report builds on last year’s research, which found that one in four employees never know with certainty what time they will finish work.

The industrial relations director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Richard Clancy, denies that workers are doing it tougher. He told news.com, “Employers and their employees are talking about these things more than ever before … and they are resolving issues around working arrangements in the workplace … It is important that flexibility is available to both parties and that they are arranged to work for them both.”

But a genuine discussion about overtime is unlikely to be had in many workplaces. “Flexibility” for the bosses is the ability to bully workers into working longer or more unpredictable hours for less pay.

The Australia Institute surveyed 1,000 workers, and 77 percent of respondents stated the bleeding obvious: employers have more power than employees in negotiating work/life balance. A third said that working fewer hours would jeopardise their career and 62 percent said that securing a better work/life balance would require the imposition of new workplace laws.

As it stands, the Fair Work Act allows an employer to demand overtime be worked if it accords with “usual patterns of work” in the particular industry, if the bosses have established a culture of overtime or if there is an agreement that the workers’ wages rest on an expectation that they will work longer hours.

Forty-six percent of the workers polled indicated that their work/life balance is getting worse because of an increased expectation by bosses that workers will work longer hours.

As we sit down to Christmas lunch this year, we can be sure that we’ll have footed the bill many times over for the feast spread before the boss.