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News News Unpaid overtime not due to AWAs - minister

GOVERNMENT changes to workplace laws are not to blame for new figures showing people are working more unpaid overtime, Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey says.

New figures on work hours from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show more than half of Australia's 8.6 million employees are working overtime without compensation.

Mr Hockey said today that real wages had increased by 20 per cent over the past few years.

"That significant increase in wages in real terms and the fact that people are working fewer hours today than they did in 1996 clearly indicates that with flexibility comes increased pay," he said on ABC radio.

Mr Hockey said new technology was more to blame for changing working conditions than industrial relations changes.

"Today we have the internet and mobile phones, which allows us to undertake work from home or at home (and) has changed the nature of the Australian workplace," he said.

"Certainly it's not related to industrial relations, it's related to the changing workplace and the modern economy."

Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) were certainly not to blame, he said.

"This is a furphy because the only time you could ever trade away penalty rates without compensation has been in the last 13 months - we've changed the law of course and you can't do that any more.

"In those 13 months, it would be a very small fraction of the AWAs that would not provide penalty rates.

"So you're talking about a fraction of 1 per cent of the Australian workforce that has traded away penalty rates for no compensation."

The ABS figures show the proportion of the workforce doing overtime or extra hours is unchanged on 2003 at about 37 per cent, but nearly half - 48 per cent - of those people usually work overtime unpaid.

This compares with 33 per cent in 2003, although the ABS cautions against comparing the results, saying the recent survey has been redeveloped.

University of Newcastle economist Bill Mitchell described the change as stark. "People are already working longer hours - now more of them are doing it for nothing," Professor Mitchell said. "That's my conclusion on this."

The report on working time says that last November Australia had 8.6 million employees aged 15 and over, 5.8 million of whom work full-time compared with 2.2 million who are part-time.

It was not possible to definitively attribute the rise in overtime to the Government's WorkChoices laws, enacted in March last year, Professor Mitchell said, but the spike in unpaid overtime could be the result of employers putting their workers on AWAs.

"My suspicion is there was a lot of activity early on in WorkChoices to cater for the sort of stalling that had been going on in anticipation of the legislation," he said.

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