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Technology and work/life balance

December 1 2011 - According to ACTU President Ged Kearney Australians work more than two billion hours of unpaid overtime - equivalent to $72 billion worth of foregone wages - and advances in modern technology are adding to the load. Smartphones, tablets and other types of 24-7 technology can make life easier for many people but they make it harder to switch off even when at home and also keep us at work longer.

She said:

"Research by The Australia Institute shows that one in two workers do not spend as much time with their family as they would like.

"Their research also suggests that in a workforce of 11.4 million people, about 6.8 million workers experience work that pollutes free time in any given week, while 1.75 million workers regularly have their free time infiltrated by work demands.

"This matches the outcomes of the ACTU’s Working Australia Census of 42,000 people, which found 41% of workers were contacted outside of work hours at least once a week. Three out of five worked additional hours each week, but half of them received no extra compensation for their overtime.

"We often hear the word ‘flexibility’ banded around by employers when it comes to justifying invading their workers’ personal time via technology, but all too often the benefits of such flexibility stop with the bosses, while employees miss out."

Ged Kearney argues that some employees have agreed to give up free time in return for a higher wage, or have accepted more money for being on call. However, for many people evening or weekend work was more a matter of necessity than choice.

"Work infiltrating family or personal time is not limited to those who work more hours than the standard 38 hour week, it also affects the millions of workers in insecure employment," Ms Kearney said.

"We know that insecure work - casual employment, fixed or short-term contracts, labour hire, and contracting - makes up about 40% of the workforce and many of these workers are given short notice periods before being required to come in to work, while many others are unable to plan their weeks or months thanks to the uncertainty of changing rosters and shifts.

"This makes it harder for them to manage the household finances, to spend time with their family and friends, and to plan for the future. The ACTU encourages workers to make a submission to the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia, chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe. And today, we also encourage workers to go home on time."

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