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Unpaid overtime: how much work are you doing for free?

BECTU wants to see an end to unpaid overtime in the creative sectors

23 February 2018

The TUC's annual survey into the amount of unpaid overtime being worked across the UK economy has been published today (23 February) on Work Your Proper Hours Day.

We'd love to think to all our members will be able to take a proper lunch break and/or leave on time today. Many will be able to. But the reality is many won't due to the demands of film and TV production, not least, and the rigours of theatre and live event production. The key aim we share with members, however, is that all working hours should be paid. 

Creative sectors' worst offenders?

The TUC's press release is reproduced below and it's illuminating. But we couldn't publish it here without shining a light on some of the worst offenders on long hours in our sectors. 

Firstly let's take another look at visual effects (VFX). In 2014 an informal survey run by BECTU suggested average daily unpaid overtime of 1.5 hours by the 3000 VFX workers then working in the UK.

This then level of overtime amounted to an annual subsidy to the industry of more than £30million. We asked the employers to work with us to conduct a more wide-reaching and official survey but they refused. The number of VFX workers in the UK has grown since then and our members tell us that the employers' reliance on free labour hasn't  decreased. 

Feature film and TV drama

Looking at film more generally, the producers' reliance on unpaid overtime continues to be a concern. Make-up, costume, locations, ADs and runners are amongst the departments expected to work an unreasonable number of free hours. On a feature film freelancers are engaged for a 12 hour day with one hour of free prep/wrap time; only after these hours does overtime kick in. On drama productions, however, the expectations can be much worse with no official limit on free prep/wrap time with the norm for some departments being two hours a day.

The new agreement covering feature films, due to come into effect on 2 April, caps the amount of free overtime at 30 minutes (non-shooting) or 15 minutes (shooting). Whilst the new TV Drama Agreement introduced in December 2017 makes expectations clear up front so freelancers can negotiate accordingly.

Spencer MacDonald, national secretary, said:

"Whilst we're making some progress on this issue in film and TV drama, we still haven’t eradicated unpaid overtime in a £3billion pound industry."   


We're also tracking this issue in theatre with costume being a live issue.

"We have big problems with costume members who enter into buyouts that have no maximum number of additional hours that are bought out. Theatres and productions argue that they are bought out so they are being paid but sometimes if you divide the number of actual hours worked by the buyout they are not getting the rates or sometimes even the minimum wage," explained Helen Ryan, assistant national secretary. 

TUC's press release, 23 February 2018 

Workers in the UK put in more than £31 billion worth of unpaid overtime a year

  • UK workers put in a total of 2 billion unpaid hours in 2017
  • Public sector employees make up a quarter (25%) of total employees but produce more than a third (39%) of all unpaid overtime

UK workers gave their employers £31.2 billion of free labour last year by doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis of official statistics published today (Friday) by the TUC.

Today is the TUC’s 14th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. Prior to this day, the average person doing unpaid overtime has effectively worked the year so far for free.
Nearly 5 million people put in an average of 7.4 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2017. This is equivalent to missing out on pay averaging £6,265 each.

To mark the day, the TUC is asking workers to take a proper lunch break and leave on time. And managers should consider how to move away from over-reliance on unpaid overtime.

Workers can check how much more they’d get each year if their overtime was paid at their usual rate.

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.

“If you’re worried about the long-hours culture where you work, get together with workmates and join a union. That’s the best way to get your voice heard, and stop your boss breaking the rules.”

The TUC analysis also found that while public sector employees make up a quarter (25%) of all employees, they account for more than a third (39%) of all unpaid overtime.
Frances O’Grady added:

“Public sector workers are more likely to work extra hours unpaid. It’s a mark of how dedicated our public servants are – and it’s kept our schools and hospitals running through years of funding cuts.

“But public service workers have also had eight years of real pay cuts, so they are being forced to do more for less. It’s time the government gave them the fully-funded pay rise they have earned.”


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