'You're cabbaged when you get home'

Longest average working week in Europe 3.3 million work more than 50 hours a week No right to paid holiday
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The Independent Online
Case histories


Stevan Walker, 25, teaches history to 11- to 16-year-olds in a north London comprehensive and estimates that he works at least 50 hours each week on school-related activities. He expects to be exhausted by his job, but wants to ensure that it is teaching, not administration, that is demanding his attention and energy.

"More than 50 languages are spoken in my school, and I teach mixed-ability classes. In that situation what you're really doing is taking five or six lessons simultaneously. That's very demanding, and if you have your time eaten into by bureaucratic duties, then standards drop.

"It can be incredibly tiring, but mentally rather than physically. You're cabbaged when you get home and all you feel like doing is falling down in front of the television - which is bad because with history you really need to work on developing your subject knowledge.

"But after having been at work from 8.30am till 4.00pm, and with marking and lesson preparation still to do, the last thing you feel like doing is reading a history book."

Stevan thinks he copes with his workload better than most: "You can see how exhausting it is when Staff Room Pallor starts to set in - a pale- faced expression that you see on people, mainly during the long Autumn term. The length of the 'cover list' increases because staff start going down with things through stress, which loads more stress on to the other teachers who have to cover for them.

"I get through it by relapsing into a pathetic illness once term's over. I try to have three or four days in each holiday when I don't do anything that's related to teaching, which is usually possible as I'm quite junior.

"But these holidays just don't exist for senior people: my head of year was getting up at 5.00am to get attendance figures ready for Ofsted. He was leaving school at seven in the evening and then doing more when he got home."

Stevan is anxious not to come over as a "whinging teacher". "I love the job," he insists, "and I went into it to teach, not to make money or work cushy hours. My quibble is that so much time that could be devoted to improving teaching is wasted on activities that would be better done by professional managers."

Would the directive help him? Not much. Stevan can "voluntarily" work more than 48 hours until 2003, and the directive recognises that some working patterns are difficult to measure.


Nina, 48, a specialist nurse working in the Bristol area, cannot give her full name and is doubtful that any of her fellow health workers will speak openly on the subject. Nina's comments suggest that protection would be necessary in the marketised NHS.

"The sister on our ward is supposed to work between 7.15am and 3.30pm, but she's often asked to do a double shift through to 9.30 at night. The managers just think nothing of it. The safety aspect isn't considered at all: they just demand whatever is convenient for them. It's the same with the domestic staff - I was talking to a man today who regularly works 12-hour shifts to build his pay up to a decent living wage, but even after all this overtime, he's only taking home pounds 140.

"That's an insult to a middle-aged man with a family. Everyone's afraid for their position - that's the way they get people to comply. The hospital is run on fear - you can't get anyone to speak up about hours or conditions."

Would the directive help hospital workers? Junior doctors are specifically exempted. Other hospital workers, deemed to be in an industry providing continuous service would gain little from the directive's main provisions, but they would be entitled to "compensatory rest" or "appropriate protection" against excessive working.


Vivian, 23, works as an advertising executive and is at her desk for 55 hours a week. Although contracted to work a daily 9 to 5, she typifies the pressure that executive and administrative staff are under to stay late.

"I just have to get my job done, because if I don't, someone else will. When I get in I want to go straight to bed. I've no time to speak to anyone or do practical things, and it creates an awful paradox where everything at work is amazingly well organised, but home life, money - personal things - are in a mess.

"A friend at Goldman Sachs was working from 6am to 11.30pm. He was staggering home at midnight, eating a pizza and then just collapsing. But he had to do it because they'd hired 10 people and he knew that only five would be kept on."

Would the directive help executives? Theoretically yes, but the "voluntary" provisions apply till 2003. Legal redress would be possible.