Economic climate is forcing more employees to work over 48 hours a week again in sectors such as construction, warns TUC

The TUC has warned that the worsening economic climate is bringing the return of longer working hours, with construction employees among the worst affected.

After falling steadily since 1998, the number of people working more than 48 hours a week has begun to rise again, according to a new report from the trade union body.

Between 1998 and 2006, the number working longer hours fell from 3.8m to 3.1m, but that figure is back up to 3.3m this year.

The biggest increases were in construction, retail, the motor trade, finance and public administration, with the East of England and London the areas worst affected.

The TUC attributed the return of the long hours culture to the challenging economic climate, with employees forced to work harder to compensate for tighter staffing levels as employers recruit fewer new staff.

Senior jobs are becoming increasingly linked to long hours, said the report, which warned that this could damage promotion prospects for women who have childcare responsibilities and further widen the gender pay gap. An overwhelming 85% of those joining the ranks of the long-hours brigade are male.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: “After slow but steady progress over the last decade, long-hours working is making its way back into Britain's workplaces.

“Employees across the UK already work the longest hours in Western Europe and the recent increase will mean lower productivity, more stress and less time to have a life outside the office with friends and family.”

The TUC has asked the government to back proposals to strengthen the Working Time Directive, which will be discussed at a meeting between European employment ministers on 9-10 June.

It wants minister to reconsider the UK's partial opt-out allowing individuals to make the choice whether to work longer than the 48-hour week maximum provided for in the directive.