British men are working the longest hours in Europe
A new study published today shows that full-time male workers in Britain work two hours per week longer than the European average. The long hours culture is still a problem for many workers in this country, despite the recent proliferation of part-time jobs. The problem is that few employees can actually get the hours that they want. A recent TUC study showed that most part-time workers want more hours, but it is also still the case that many full-time workers want fewer hours.
Despite a fall in the number of people working very long hours, 3 million employees still work more than 48 hours – around 1 in 8. Excessive working time is associated with the development of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, stress and depression. It can also lead to poor performance and absenteeism, and squeezes out desirable things like training and education, which are necessary for economic success.
It is therefore a great shame that the government still sees regulating excessive hours as a bad thing. We expect David Cameron to attack the Working Time Directive (WTD) when he makes his delayed speech on Europe.
Whenever you hear the WTD attacked, please take a moment to consider that this directive is the legal basis for paid leave in the UK. Six million people gained more holidays when the WTD was introduced (1998), the majority of them being low paid women working part-time. You might also pause to reflect briefly on the fact that John Major’s government abolished the old Wages Councils in 1993, which previously set legal standards for paid holidays for low paid workers. We must not give up what we have won.
If we are to have more relaxed, fuller and more fulfilling lives, then a national debate on improving productivity is key, through better work organisation and more investment in training, jobs, infrastructure.
There are a number of examples of other countries building strong economies with short working hours that we should study closely.
Fore example, the latest figures on working time from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the average Dutch worker spends 1,379 hours at work each year, producing $82,460 in GDP value (£51,452 at today’s prices).
The average UK worker spends 1,625 hours a year at work yet only produces $76,700 in GDP value (£47,859 at today’s prices) – making Dutch productivity per hour 27% higher than UK productivity, and allowing Dutch workers five more hours a week of their own.
The study published today was conducted by Professor Francis Green, of London University, using data from the Eurostat Labour Force Survey. Professor Green says “Britons seem more hard-working, yet perhaps less happy and more inefficient” because of our long working week.