The Federal Government and major employer groups have failed in a bid to block the ACTU’s test case on reasonable working hours.

A five-member full bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission today agreed to hear the case over two weeks in November, rejecting Government and employer submissions to hear it on an award-by-award basis.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles today welcomed the decision, saying the epidemic of excessive working hours and unpaid overtime affecting Australian employees deserved a top-level inquiry.

“Now all the procedural roadblocks are out of the way, we can present a compelling case to plug the hole in the award system which is allowing people to be forced to work virtually unlimited hours,” said Mr Marles.

“The pressure to work longer, less predictable and often unpaid extra hours is stretching working families to the limit. Extreme hours degrade the lives of workers and their families, and are bad for productivity, staff morale and workplace safety.

“As a community, we need to deal with problems of overwork in a comprehensive way. This hearing is a crucial step forward,” said Mr Marles.

The ACTU’s claim seeks to establish flexible guidelines on excessive hours of work and unhealthy roster patterns, considering factors such as an employee’s workload over an extended period, health and safety and family and community responsibilities.

The guidelines would be tailored to suit the requirements of individual industries, without imposing a maximum cap on working time.

Recent studies show that up to one-third of Australian employees are working more than 50 hours a week, giving Australia the second-longest working hours in the OECD, trailing only the United States.