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Employment arrangements: Home workers
Working at home can offer benefits to employees, employers and society as a whole. Home workers, whether employees or self-employed, enjoy benefits including no commuting time or cost, an increase in family contact, greater flexibility in working hours, convenience, and decreased levels of stress. For the self- employed, there are tax advantages and substantial savings in overheads in working at home. Employers benefit through savings in overheads, increased productivity, greater retention of skilled personnel, and decreased absenteeism and staff turnover2.
Home work may also increase employment opportunities for disabled workers. The home environment is likely to be already adapted to the special needs of disabled workers.
Finally, there are benefits to the environment. Home workers do not need to commute. This helps reduce pollution from commuter transport and eases the strain on energy resources.
Working at home is not without its costs. Employers may face problems with supervising staff and ensuring home duties are not affecting work performance, accessing their staff, achieving a team work approach, and ensuring data security and confidentiality2.
Employees can be disadvantaged by their lack of bargaining power for better pay and conditions. In addition costs may take the form of a sense of isolation, lack of access to on-the-job training, and lack of equipment or a suitable environment in which to work.
In many industrialised countries, the proportion of people working at home was either stable or in decline over the last decade or so. However, it has again increased because of its wide use in the service sector1.
Home workers are most likely to work in the service industries. In March 1992, more than two-thirds of home workers were employed in the service industries: 61,800 in finance, property and business services; 54,100 in wholesale and retail trade; 46,300 in recreation, personal and other services; and 44,800 in community services. The number of home workers grew between 1989 and 1992 in all industries except construction, with the most substantial growth in finance, property and business services.
Industry of home workers
Source: Survey of Persons Employed at Home; Labour Force Survey
The greatest number of home workers were clerks who comprised nearly 40% of all home workers. However, in line with ILO findings, it is the service sector where growth has been strongest. Between 1989 and 1992, the number of sales and personal service home workers increased by 36%. This was followed by professionals with a 32% increase in home workers in the period.
Female home workers outnumbered male home workers in four of the eight occupation groups and, in the other four, they represented 40-50% of home workers. The largest occupation groups for home workers were clerks for women (55%) and professionals for men (34%).
Home working among men was most common among professionals, with 6% of all male professionals being home workers. For women, the highest proportion of home workers (12%) was found among tradespersons, followed closely by clerks (11%). It is likely that many of the tradespersons were hairdressers.
OCCUPATION OF HOME WORKERS, 1992
Status of home worker
In both 1989 and 1992, 52% of home workers were self-employed or unpaid family helpers. Between 1989 and 1992 the number of self-employed or unpaid family home workers increased by 17% from 138,600 to 161,600. In the same period the number of employee home workers increased by 21%, to 112,400.
In 1992 the distributions of the various types of home worker were very similar for men and women. These proportions differed from 1989 when female home workers were more likely than male home workers to have been employees and less likely to have been self-employed or employers.
Between 1989 and 1992 the proportion of male home workers who were employees increased from 30% to 36%, offset by relative decreases in the other two categories. For women, the distribution changed only marginally with a slight increase from 50% to 52% in the proportion who were self-employed or unpaid family workers.
As information systems and electronic communication devices develop further it will become increasingly practical for small businesses to operate from a home base3.
EMPLOYMENT STATUS OF HOME WORKERS
Source: Survey of Persons Employed at Home
Working hours and conditions
In 1992, 91% of all home workers stated that their home job was their main job. However, 67% of home workers usually worked less than 35 hours a week at home and 45% usually worked less than 20 hours a week at home.
Of all employees working at home in 1992, 56% were casual workers. Consequently they were not entitled to paid sick leave or holiday leave. 53% of these employees were covered for workers' compensation. However they had a low rate of employer provided superannuation (36%) and an extremely low rate of trade union coverage (7%).
This is quite different from the situation of all employees not working at home in 1992. Employees not working at home were more likely to be covered by worker's compensation as by state/territory law their employer is liable for any injury occurring at the workplace. They also had higher rates of employer provided superannuation and trade union membership4.
HOME WORKERS BY USUAL WEEKLY HOURS WORKED, 1992
Source: Survey of Persons Employed at Home
The average usual gross weekly pay of employees working at home in March 1992 was $279. This apparent low rate of pay was due to the high proportion of home workers working less than 20 hours a week in their home job.
In all industries, most employees working at home were paid on an hourly basis. However in finance, property and business services 27% of employees working at home were paid by receipt of a share of the annual profit of their employer.
The impact of family
In 1992, there were slightly more home workers living with children under 15 years than without children under 15 years (146,800 compared to 142,600).
Home workers with younger children in the family tended to work fewer hours a week than those with older children or no children. This pattern is similar to overall labour force trends which show that the number of hours women work increases as their youngest child reaches school age. 82% of people with one or more children under 3 years worked less than 35 hours a week compared to 73% with children aged 3-14 years only and 63% without children.
Reasons for beginning to work at home
In 1992 the most common reasons given by both men and women for beginning to work at home related to operating a business. For men 27% said the main reason they began working at home was because they wanted an office at home/no overheads/no rent. The next most common response among men was to open or operate their own family business (26%).
For women the primary reason for beginning to work at home was to open/operate own/family business (26%). The next most common response was children too young/preferred to look after children (23%).
MAIN REASON HOME WORKERS BEGAN WORKING AT HOME, 1992
Source: Survey of persons employed at home
1 Schneider de Villegas, G. (1989) Home Work: An overview ILO Conditions of Work Digest, Vol. 8, No. 2.
2 Wood, J. (1992) Telecommuting: Making the Future Work for Australia Management Review, Vol 17, no 7.
3 Cranswick, K. (1994) Technology's Tools of Trade Business Review Weekly, August 22, 1994.
4 Trade Union Members, Australia (cat. no. 6325.0).