The National Minimum Wage, Working Hours & UK Military Personnel

Did you know that, under Section (1) of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, a person serving as a member of the naval, military, or air force of the Crown does not qualify for the national minimum wage (NMW) in respect of that service?

Further, personnel are exempt from the Working Time Directive and do not receive overtime payments.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) pays military personnel using a daily rate, not an hourly rate (although the MOD states they are paid an annual salary!) and, due to the nature of military work, i.e. not having set working hours (in general), it is difficult to work out the hourly rate of Service person.

However, not quite accurate as the MOD has used work diaries and other methods to ascertain the estimated number of hours worked by personnel, and salaries are known in advance. For example, “MOD data for 2016-17 showed the Royal Navy averaged 60.9 hours per week when at sea, 1.3 hours less than the previous year.” (AFPRB, 2018, p.12).

Further the:

“MOD said that based upon an assessment around the average working week, it remains the case that the pay of the Armed Forces (excluding LSA [Longer Separation Allowance]) compares favourably with all NMW comparators and most of its personnel are paid above NMW levels for the vast majority of time.” (AFPRB, 2018, p.12).

However, this comparison diminishes during operational extremes or at sea were regularly long hours are more common.

In 2016-17, the average number of working hours for military personnel was “44.7 hours per week”, broadly similar to 2015-16 (AFPRB, 2018, p.11).

  • Unsociable hours:
    • Defined as any hours worked between 00:00 and 06:00 Monday to Friday; between 18:00 and 24:00 Monday to Friday and any hours worked on Saturday or Sunday.
    • Remained similar at 6.6 hours.
  • Average weekly duty hours:
    • Time spent working, on-call and on meal breaks. On-call includes all time when available as necessary, including all time away at sea, time spent on exercise (including periods of stand down) and fully kitted for immediate call out.
    • Decreased to 63.4 hours (from 64.4 hours).
  • Excessive Hours:
    • In 2016-17, 7% of UK Armed Forces personnel worked excessive hours.
    • Defined as working 70 hours or more per week.
    • 16% of Naval Service personnel.
    • 5% of Army personnel.
    • 2% of RAF personnel.
    • However, on visits by the AFPRB, many Service personnel told them that they were working longer hours.
  • Working Hours At Sea & Overseas Operations:
    • Royal Navy personnel averaged 60.9 hours per week when at sea, 1.3 hours less than the previous year.
    • Army personnel averaged 60.1 hours per week on overseas operations (up by 6.2 hours).
    • RAF personnel 56.2 hours per week on overseas operations (down by 2.6 hours).
  • Junior Ranks:
    • Junior ranks across all Services averaged 42.4 hours during 2016-17, with those those on the lowest pay band (pay range 1) earning £18,489 or £8.35 per hour.
    • This compared with the then relevant NMW/National Living Wage (NLW) figures of:
      • £7.50 for those aged 25+;
      • £7.05 for those aged 21-24; and
      • £5.60 for those aged 18-20.
  • Longer Separation Allowance (LSA):
    • Although the AFPRB previously considered LSA to mitigate, or remove altogether, any potential risk of of an hourly rate falling below the NMW, in 2017 they considered that this was no longer an appropriate adjustment. Their reason – the payment of LSA is to compensate for a specific circumstance and should not be used in the calculation of a basic rate of pay for comparison with NMW rates.

“Civilian data for full-time employees (average working hours taken from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) at April 2016) were 38.1 basic hours plus 1.0 hours paid overtime. It is not clear to us when examining civilian data that we are making like-for-like comparisons and it should be noted that there is great variation in the number of hours worked in civilian life with regular unpaid overtime in some sectors.” (AFPRB, 2018, p.11-12).

From personal experience, my working hours in barracks would generally be 08:00 to 16:30, with a NAAFI break at 10:00 to 10:30 and 14:00 to 14:15, and lunch from 12:00 to 13:00. However, on exercise, operations, civil aid duties etc. this would rise to between 50 and 80 hours per week – an Infantry-style exercise might see us working 100-110 hours. A guard duty might be 24-36 hours (sleeping or non-sleeping).

Of course, these hours are somewhat mitigated by others activities such as adventure training which could be UK-based or overseas. However, all of them impact on family life.


AFPRB (Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body). (2018) Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body Forty-Seventh Report 2018. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 January, 2019].

FOI 2018/09770 dated August 2018.


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