Buck trend and go home on time

Get a life and clock off from work on time. This is the message unions are sending out today to mark Go Home on Time Day.

However, the national day of avoiding overtime, invented by the Australia Institute three years ago to promote awareness of work/life balance, is likely to be ignored by many. New research found more than half of all full-time workers regularly worked unpaid overtime, and one in four put in a working week of 50 hours or more.

Sydney University's Workplace Research Centre tracked more than 8000 employees across the country over five years, working in a broad cross section of white-and blue-collar industries.

The study found fewer full time workers were doing a standard working week than at any time in the past five years.

The findings appear to be backed up by a separate study set to be released today by the commercial property multinational company Regus. Its global survey of 12,000 white-collar workers found 49 per cent of Australians are now putting in between nine and 11 hours every day, compared to 38 per cent of workers globally. Only 13 per cent of Australian workers said they never took work home.

The secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon, said the research shattered claims the Fair Work Act was skewed to the workers' side.

"Anyone saying the pendulum has swung too far in favour of employees needs a grip on reality," he said.

But Mark Wooden, of the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, dismissed the mounting body of research that suggests Australians have some of the longest working hours in the world as "absolute crap".

People tend to overestimate how long they work as a sort of "badge of courage" and find it difficult to estimate the hours they work accurately, he said.

"Workers in Japan and Korea work longer than Australians," he said. "Over the last 10 years, the proportion of Australians working long hours has been dropping."

Professor Wooden's claims prompted John Buchanan, the director of the Workplace Research Centre which conducted the national survey, to retaliate, saying his colleague's position was "idiosyncratic" and "mystified more than it clarified".

"Yes, hours for full-time Australian workers have dropped away slightly since the 1990s, but only by about an hour, after rising more than four hours in the [preceding] 20 years," Dr Buchanan said. "Australia still has one of the highest proportion of full-timers working long hours in the world."