Australian workers are coughing up more unpaid hours than before the pandemic, new data shows, as remote work blurs the meaning of ‘going home’

Australian workers are coughing up more unpaid hours than before the pandemic, new data shows, as remote work blurs the meaning of ‘going home’
  • The average Australian worker now provides more than six hours of unpaid labour each week, the Australia Institute says.
  • That figure has grown over the pandemic, according to new data released on ‘Go Home on Time Day’.
  • Working from home has exacerbated the problem in some cases, the think tank says, with workers feeling compelled to contribute while off the clock.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The average Australian worker is performing an extra hour and a half of unpaid work each week compared to pre-pandemic conditions, according to a think tank campaigning for employees to clock off on time.

New research from the Australia Institute suggests the average worker now provides their business six hours and seven minutes of unpaid work each week, compared to five hours and fifteen minutes in 2020.

Pandemic conditions appear to have accelerated the trend, with workers providing ‘only’ four hours and 37 minutes in 2019, the data shows.

All told, the average Australian worker is now providing 319 hours of unpaid work each year. In dollar terms, those workers are likely providing $461 of free work each fortnight.

The data, compiled from an August survey of more than 1,600 workers, arrives on what the Australia Institute has labelled ‘Go Home on Time Day’.

However, the COVID-19 crisis and the widespread adoption of remote work has muddied the once-strict definition of ‘going home’, said Dan Nahum, economist at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work.

As many as 40% of Australian workers conducted all or part of their work duties at home through the pandemic, according to the Productivity Commission.

Many workers say they prefer working from home, stating it has improved their work-life balance.

However, some employees report that balance has tipped the other way, resulting in early starts, late finishes, skipped breaks, and unpaid weekend duties.

“COVID-19 has made the situation worse, indicating work-from-home does not necessarily improve work life in favour of employees,” Nahum said.

“Instead we’re seeing further incursion of work into people’s personal time and their privacy.”

Alarmingly, 39% of remote employees say they are remotely monitored throughout the day, through keystroke counters used to detect written activity, and even through active webcam monitoring.

“It’s clear our industrial laws are not keeping pace with tech,” he said.

“Arriving at work early, staying late, working through breaks, working nights and weekends, taking calls or emails out of hours – there are a host of ways employers steal time from their employees, and we see them all being used prodigiously,” he added.

Full-time workers on salaries are hardly the only ones impacted.

Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data suggests some 9.5% of the labour force is ‘underemployed’ – in other words, people who have a job but are willing and able to take on more paid hours.

These workers are frequently younger Australians entering the workforce for the first time. Women are also significantly more likely to report being underemployed than their male counterparts.

In its research, the Australia Institute suggests the average part-time worker is contributing four and a half hours of unpaid work each week. The average casual is coughing up a full five hours.

As businesses adapt to increasing casualisation and remote work, the Australian Council of Trade Unions today reiterated that life “shouldn’t revolve around work alone”.