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The amount of free overtime put in by workers last year was worth over £31 billion, according to a new study.

The research by The Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that almost five million people were working an average of over seven hours a week without pay.

It’s estimated that the extra work was worth an average of £6,265 per worker.

Two months working for free

It means that the average person has effectively worked for free so far this year, only starting to be paid from the beginning of March; that’s two months of the working year!

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Lots of us are willing to put in a bit of extra time when it’s needed, but it’s a problem if it happens all the time. So today we’re saying to workers, make sure you take a proper lunch break and go home on time.

“We’re asking managers to leave on time too. Good bosses know that a long-hours culture doesn’t get good results, and the best way to lead is by example.”

The TUC analysis also found that while public sector workers make up a quarter of all employees, they account for more than a third of all unpaid overtime.

Working hours: What your rights are

The government’s Working Time Regulations determine the maximum weekly working time, patterns of work and holidays, plus the daily and weekly rest periods for workers in Britain.

The regulations apply to both part-time or full-time workers, including the majority of agency workers and freelancers.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) says the Working Time Regulations provide rights to:

• A limit of an average of 48 hours a week on the hours a worker can be required to work, though individuals may choose to work longer by opting out.

• Paid annual leave of 5.6 weeks a year

• 11 consecutive hours’ rest in any 24-hour period

• A 20-minute rest break if the working day is longer than six hours

• One day off each week

• A limit on the normal working hours of night workers to an average of eight hours in any 24-hour period, and an entitlement for night workers to receive regular health assessments.

Other regulations

There are also special regulations for young workers, which restrict their working hours to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. The rest break is 30 minutes if their work lasts more than 4.5 hours, and they’re entitled to two days off each week.

Your employer can’t force you to work more than 48 hours a week if you haven’t agreed to it in writing. If they do, they could be breaking the law.

If you find yourself in this situation, you should raise the concern with your employer and, if that fails, make a formal complaint in writing to your company or boss.

If you need to take matters further, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. To do this, you must notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) of your potential claim first.

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