THE INNER CITY, Bar Beach and Cooks Hill have topped a list of the city’s workaholic postcodes, with Novocastrians living in well-heeled suburbs along the coast clocking up the most hours of overtime.
But experts have warned the trend towards a longer working week and more overtime hours is being seen across the board in Australia, regardless of the industry or geographic area.
“People have to draw the line,” said Jim Stanford, an economist and the director of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute.
“We weren’t put on this planet to work, we were put on this planet to live. We have to keep work in context.”
Census data compiled for the Newcastle Herald by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that Newcastle East has the highest proportion of residents who work 55 hours a week or more, at 10.2 per cent.
It was followed by Newcastle West (10 per cent), Bar Beach (9.1 per cent) and Cooks Hill (8.5 per cent).
Maryville and Merewether rounded out the top six.
According to census data, Newcastle East has about double the number of professionals (40 per cent) as the state average, and the most common fields of employment are the medical profession or tertiary education.
But it is a suburb with a sharp divide in its working population. It also made a list of the top 10 suburbs by proportion of residents who work 15 hours a week or less.
That list was taken out by Birmingham Gardens (21.7 per cent) and Jesmond (20.7 per cent), both peppered with student sharehouses due to their proximity to Newcastle University.
Merewether Heights (19.6 per cent), North Lambton (18.9 per cent) and Windale (18.7 per cent) also made the top five for the shortest working weeks.
Mr Stanford said he would be cautious about drawing any conclusions from data relating to the affluence of an area and how many hours its residents worked.
“People could interpret that in all kinds of ways … I would be very careful about ascribing this to some sort of work ethic,” he said.
“Even in lower wage jobs or more traditional blue collar jobs, there’s still a lot of pressure to work long hours.
“But there’s a certain arithmetic relationship, that if you work more hours you have more money. The poorest areas are where people have no work at all.”
According to Mr Stanford, the stereotype that only chief executives or top managers worked excessive hours was no longer accurate.
The problem was filtering down to employees on all rungs of the career ladder and across all industries.
“I think it’s a reflection of the growing insecurity of work across Australia. At least a third of workers have jobs that are very precarious and they are desperate for more hours,” he said.
“Then we have a group on the other hand with a relatively secure job, but they see all those insecure people hungry for work and think: ‘I better work harder’.
“It would absolutely be a no-brainer to put those together and share work in a more equal and sustainable way, but that would require employers to change.”
Mato Demir is one of the Novocastrians burning the midnight oil. As the owner of Beresfield-based firm Demato Construction, he estimates he wouldn’t work anything less than a 55 to 60 hour week.
“When you’re sitting at the top of the tree, the clock just keeps ticking,” said Mr Demir, of Woodrising.
The 45-year-old was supported by a good crew, but said the competitive nature of the construction industry meant the job was often relentless.
“You’re not the only one in the trenches … but the market’s so tight at the moment,” he said. “You’ve got to put the hours in at the front to get the rewards at the end.”
Mr Demir said he tried to create a good work-life balance, but admitted the job often played on his mind after hours.
“It’s hard to switch off on the weekend,” he said.
“I go home at night and I’m still texting the guys … you sit down and have dinner and your mind is elsewhere, thinking about what happened today and what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Mr Stanford said there was no doubt that overwork had a “myriad” of negative consequences for an employee’s health and well being, and on productivity.
“Even at an individual level, people should feel justified at pushing back at this expectation,” he said.
“For many workers they’re not even getting paid for the overtime, particularly in office jobs and professions.
“The reason that employers can get away with that is because the labour market is such an unforgiving place.”
The owner of 23hundred cafe in the city’s East End, Peter Johnston, was skeptical about the figures relating to his patch.
In his experience, tradies slogging away on the Supercars track, the light rail line and the Bather’s Way projects appeared to be putting in the longest hours.
Newcastle East was also home to a large number of retirees, Mr Johnston said.
“[But] there are the medical professionals, they tend to do big hours, they come in here,” he added.