Today Is ‘Go Home On Time Day’, And Seriously, Get The Hell Outta There

The average Australian worker works an estimated 240 unpaid hours per year.

Go Home On Time Day

Send that last passive-aggressive email, pencil that last pointless meeting in Google Calendar, and wish Carol from Accounts good luck with her Jiu-Jitsu tournament as you waltz merrily out the office door at 5pm, because today is ‘Go Home on Time Day’ 2019!

Now in its eleventh year, Go Home on Time Day is an annual event promoting work-life balance and providing “a great way to remind ourselves that life shouldn’t revolve around work alone”.

Seriously though — Australian workers, especially young people, are increasingly working insane amounts of overtime, usually without being paid for it.

Progressive think-tank The Australia Institute call this ‘time theft’. It’s a form of ‘wage theft’, robbing you not only of the money you should’ve been paid for working longer, but also of the time you should’ve been spending with friends, family, pets and on your sweet lonesome.

Recent extreme cases of ‘time theft’ include a trainee surgeon completing 100 hours of unpaid overtime in a month, lawyers sleeping in their offices, long-haul pilots allowed only five hours sleep between shifts and a pastry chef prevented by her celebrity boss from attending her grandma’s funeral.

Time Theft — It Could Happen To YOU

But ‘time theft’ isn’t just an extreme aberration — it is startlingly widespread.

The Fair Work Commission legally mandates that most Australian workers work a maximum of 38 hours per week, plus ‘reasonable’ overtime. But the Centre for Future Work estimate that the average Australian works 240 unpaid hours per year! That’s six weeks of full time work.

To break it down, that’s an average of 5 hours per week stolen from full-timers, 4 hours from part-timers, and 3 hours from casuals. In total, that’s 2.4 billion hours, worth over $80 billion, that companies steal from Aussie workers every year. That ain’t ‘reasonable’.

That is, in technical economic terms, fucked.

If you want to calculate how much time and money you’re losing each year by staying back late, working through lunch-breaks or on weekends, the Go Home on Time Day website has a handy and not-at-all-depressing calculator.

Working crazy-long hours also has a significant negative impact on workers’ physical and mental health. Studies show that working more than 39 hours a week puts an individual at risk of developing mental health issues.

And above all, you have the right to be doing other things. Socialising with family and friends, caring for children and relatives, spending quality time with your romantic partner or watching the latest episode of His Dark Materials in your pyjamas are all really important to a fulfilled and meaningful life.

Whilst many employers and conservative politicians often depict socialising and relaxing as lazy or frivolous, they have no right to deny your legitimate aspirations for a decent life outside the office walls.

Use Your Leave

Summer is almost here, so another important PSA is to use any paid annual leave you are entitled to. All Australian workers except casuals are entitled to at least four weeks of paid holidays. Taking extended breaks from work is an important way to refresh and recharge.

But Australia is now the third worst country in the world for workers’ using their paid annual leave entitlements.

Half of all workers say they feel ‘holiday deprived’ but feel they cannot afford to take time off due to workplace pressures and financial stress. According to the campaign, “About half of Australians with paid holiday leave entitlements, did not take their full holiday last year — and they left, on average, around two weeks of paid holiday ‘on the table.’”

Again — it is your right to sunbathe on the beach, get messy at a music festival or, I don’t know, look after your bored offspring who have loooooong-ass holidays over Christmas.

Whilst some of us, particularly creatives and professionals, are indeed workaholics with overwrought passion, many of us are simply pressured by our bosses and other employees to work more to ‘prove ourselves’.

Wage stagnation, job insecurity, casualisation, and declining union membership combine to instil a climate of fear. Workers, desperate for a job, raise or promotion, feel unable to use the modest entitlements they have in case they look less ‘committed’ than others, creating an arms race over who leaves the office last.

Furthermore, our weak and ineffective regulator is letting too many businesses off the hook, which emboldens bad bosses.

I should know — a few years ago, my wages were stolen by a local restaurant. Not only did that result in the loss of approximately $5000, but without the disincentive of penalty rates, my former employer had greater ‘flexibility’ to disregard my life beyond the hot confines of their cramped suburban kitchen and roster indefinite Friday and Saturday night shifts.

Unsure when I would knock off, social plans were displaced and often cancelled. My Saturday nights usually ended in my scoffing cold leftovers on my couch in the late hours, as my non-hospo friends did what young people do with time, money and energy — ironically, the very consumer choices which many hospitality businesses rely upon.

How do we fix this? The most meaningful action an individual can take it to join their union. Unions fight for their members working conditions by providing advice regarding your rights and entitlements and support in enforcing and improving them. Most unions have lower fees for young and low-paid workers, and the value pays itself back.

At a societal level, Australia must first start enforcing existing workplace rights by resourcing the regulator and allowing unions to do their jobs. We should emulate countries like Austria and France who give their workers far more generous paid leave entitlements and don’t leave casuals behind.

And above all, leave on time today and tell your colleagues to do the same.

Benjamin Clark is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in The Age and Crikey.