Patricia Hewitt will today label Britain a nation of "overtime junkies" and call on employers and unions to join together in cutting the number of hours employees work.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will urge firms to adopt much more flexible working arrangements such as the annualised hours schemes that are commonplace on the Continent.
Speaking at the launch of a new research project into the future of manufacturing, Ms Hewitt will say: "If you look at some of our key manufacturing industries, they have been forced to become overtime junkies. Too often businesses are dependent upon it to meet production targets and employees are dependent on it to make ends meet.
"We need to focus on how productivity can be boosted during core hours so that firms can afford to increase basic pay and employees can be less dependent on overtime."
Whitehall sources stressed that Ms Hewitt did not intend introducing legislation to ban overtime or cut the working week. They said limited government funds would be available for companies keen to explore ways of increasing the productivity of employees in return for working shorter hours.
In the UK, 22 per cent of the male working population work more than 48 hours a week compared with the European Union average of 11 per cent. Overall productivity levels are 15 per cent higher in France than in the UK and 7 per cent higher in Germany. But when it comes to productivity per hour worked the French are 24 per cent more productive and the Germans 23 per cent.
DTI\ officials said that the aerospace and general manufacturing sectors were particularly bad for making employees work overtime to supplement poor basic pay.
The manufacturing study is being undertaken by the Institute of Public Policy Research.
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