By Claire West

A record 5.26 million people worked unpaid overtime last year - the highest since records began in 1992 - a TUC analysis of official figures reveals this week to mark Work Your Proper Hour Day (WYPHD).

The TUC analysis found that over one in five workers (21 per cent) regularly worked unpaid overtime last year, an increase of 0.7 percentage points since 2009 and the highest proportion since 1997.

Today is Work Your Proper Hours Day - the day when the average person who does unpaid overtime would start to get paid if they did all their unpaid overtime at the start of the year.

Last year the 5.26 million people across the UK clocked up an average seven hours 12 minutes unpaid overtime a week, worth £5,485 per person and a record £28.9 billion to the economy.

Public sector workers are the most likely to do unpaid overtime, with over one in four (26.3 per cent) regularly putting in more than seven hours of unpaid overtime a week, compared to around one in six workers in the private sector (18.9 per cent).

Workers in London are most likely to work unpaid overtime (27.8 per cent), followed by the South East (25.3 per cent) and the East of England (23.7 per cent).

Of those workers who do unpaid overtime, Londoners work the most free hours (8 per week), followed by those in the East Midlands (7.5 hours) and the North East and Scotland (both 7.4 hours).

The increasing amount of unpaid overtime worked is likely to be a symptom of tough economic conditions, low recruitment activity and rising unemployment, with staff having to pick up new work as well as the work left over by colleagues who have been made redundant, the TUC believes.

Staff in the public sector put in 702 million hours of unpaid work last year. With heavy job losses about to hit the public sector, the amount of unpaid overtime is likely to rise even higher, putting an extra strain on staff already stressed about increasing workloads, pay freezes and increased pensions contributions, says the TUC.

The TUC is calling on bosses to recognise the extra free hours that staff put in and for everyone, including managers, to work their proper hours today by taking a decent lunch break and leaving work on time.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'With tough economic conditions making employers reluctant to recruit, existing staff are picking up much of the increasing work load through unpaid hours.

'While most staff are happy to put in some extra free time to help their company through, forcing staff to endlessly put in too many hours could lead to increased stress levels, which can make staff ill and reduce the quality of the work they do.

'Public sector workers - already experiencing a sharp cut in their earnings as they have their pay frozen and pension contributions raised - will be understandably upset about the amount of extra unpaid work they are expected to do with the threat of redundancy looming over them.

'Work Your Proper Hours Day is a light-hearted campaign and today is an opportunity for bosses to thank staff for going that extra mile.

'But there is a serious side to excessive overtime, irrespective of whether staff get paid for it. Bosses should always be on the lookout for a damaging long hours culture in their workplace and take steps to protect their workforce.'