Long working hours are on the increase again in the UK, after a gradual ten-year decline in people working more than 48 hours a week, according to new TUC figures.
More than one in eight workers now work more than 48 hours each week, with as many as one in six in London putting in more than 48 hours a week.
The TUC figures, taken from the Labour Force Survey, show that over three million workers or 13% of the work force now work more than 48 hours a week. The figures probably underestimate the real scale of excessive hours, as migrant workers and others, such as some hotel and care staff, are not all counted.
Under the working time regulations, workers are supposed to be protected from working more than an average 48-hour week. But in the UK - unlike other European countries - workers can “opt out” of this protection. The TUC says that the “opt out” is widely abused, with two-thirds never asked before they are expected to work in excess of 48 hours and a quarter of those who sign given no real choice.
Longer hours have terrible long term effects on workers’ health. Workers risk getting heart attacks, mental health disorders, sleep disorders, substance abuse and relationship problems. Back problems and even sudden death from overwork have been found by researchers. And for night and shift working, there are well documented risks of stomach complaints, neurological disorders and menstrual disorders.
Capitalism continuously forces workers to work long hours. Working longer hours means more exploitation of workers. It means bigger profits for bosses.
We need shorter working hours so that we can have a decent life outside work. We have friends, families, hobbies and responsibilities. We want to rest and play as well as work.
All workers should be on a maximum 35-hour week — and be pushing for a 4-day, 32-hour week. Reduced working time is the great historic demand of the labour movement. It is basic matter of freedom. It will improve our health and quality of life. And it will be better for the environment too.
When we get our reduced hours, it should be without strings: no loss of pay or jobs, no extra duties. We already work hard enough — we don’t want our extra time off to be spent recovering from extra stress and exhaustion!
How would it paid for? By cutting bosses’ and senior managers’ over-inflated salaries and bonuses. By taxing the rich. By sharing out the work more equally, and including the unemployed. By bringing industries into public ownership under workers’ control. Fight to cut the working week.
We need to fight for this:
• industrially – taking strike action to defend and extend our rights
• politically – fighting for a legally-enforced 35-hour week, and to elect people who genuinely represent working-class people’s needs and views
• ideologically — understanding and exposing this system for what it is, and working out a better way to do things.