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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999   
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Contents >> Work >> Paid Work: Decline of the standard working week

Employment arrangements: Decline of the standard working week

The proportion of employed people working 35- 44 hours a week fell from 42% to 36% between 1988 and 1998. At the same time, the proportions who worked longer hours and shorter hours both increased.

In August 1998, of the 8.5 million people who were employed, 37% worked less than 35 hours per week and 17% worked for less than 16 hours per week. The proportion of those working between 35 and 44 hours a week (36%) was similar to those who worked less than 35 hours, while 27% worked more than 44 hours per week. There were 773,700 workers (9% of employed people) who worked 60 or more hours per week.

The large disparities in hours worked among employed people mark a shift away from the norm of a full-time job of about 35-44 hours (and most commonly 40 hours) observed several decades ago, and away from industry standards for shorter hours of full-time work set in the 1980's (see Australian Social Trends 1995, The working week). Moreover, this is a trend that has continued over the last decade. Between 1988 and 1998, both the proportion of people working part-time hours and the proportion working at least 45 hours per week increased. As a result, the proportion working 35-44 hours fell from 42% to 36%.


HOURS WORKED, AUGUST 1988 TO AUGUST 1998
Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Surveys, August 1988 to August 1998.


These changes have prompted expressions of concern for workers, their families and social cohesion. There are fears in some sectors of the community that the workforce is polarising into underemployed, low income part-timers wanting to work more hours, and overworked full-timers suffering ill health, fatigue, and deteriorating quality of working and family life, who want to work fewer hours.1

Changes in hours worked have occurred for many reasons, which differ by industry, occupation, and geographic area. Some, for example, reflect the increased entry of women into the labour force and the growth of employment in service industries; both have contributed to the increase in part-time employment (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Trends in part-time work, and Australian Social Trends 1997, Changing industries, changing jobs). However, as reflected in government policies, there has also been a general desire to enhance flexibility in working arrangements to suit the interests of employers concerned with maintaining their competitiveness, and to enable individual aspirations for diverse working arrangements to be realised.

Labour market reforms such as the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's October 1991 National Wage Case Decision, and the federal governments' Industrial Relations Reform Act (1993) and Workplace Relations Act 1996, have supported diversification of employment conditions. These reforms have promoted the decentralisation of decisions on pay and working conditions (including hours of work) to agreements between employers and employees in the workplace.


Hours worked and related concepts

The main source of data for this review is from the ABS Labour Force Survey conducted monthly since February 1978.

Hours worked is measured in the survey as the number of hours actually worked by an employed person in all of his/her jobs in the survey reference week. Hours actually worked may not necessarily correspond to those usually worked, due to paid and unpaid overtime, flextime, rostered days off, public holidays, and time spent not working because of bad weather or industrial disputes. In August 1998, 4.8% of employed people had not worked at least one hour during the previous week. The survey also identifies whether people usually work full-time (35 or more hours per week) or part-time, but not the number of hours usually worked.

An employee is a person who works for a public or private employer and receives remuneration in wages, salary, a retainer fee by their employer while working on a commission basis, tips, piece-rates or payment in kind, or a person who operates his or her own incorporated enterprise with or without hiring employees.

An employer is a person who operates his or her own unincorporated economic enterprise or engages independently in a profession or trade, and hires at least one employee.

An own account worker is a person who operates his or her own unincorporated economic enterprise or engages independently in a profession or trade, and hires no employees.

EMPLOYED PERSONS: HOURS WORKED, AUGUST 1988 AND AUGUST 1998

Distribution of weekly hours worked in all jobs,
August 1998
Percentage point change in
distribution, 1988-1998


Less than
35 hours
35-44
hours
45 hours
or more
Total
persons
Less than
35 hours
35-44
hours
45 hours
or more
Sex and age group (years)
%
%
%
'000
no.
no.
no.

Men(a)
24.4
37.9
37.7
4,809.4
3.4
-6.5
3.1
15-24
42.5
38.9
18.6
799.0
12.3
-10.3
-2.0
25-44
19.2
39.4
41.4
2,444.8
1.7
-4.0
2.4
45-64
21.8
35.5
42.7
1,478.7
1.6
-8.2
6.7
Women(a)
53.0
32.8
14.2
3,727.8
2.8
-5.9
3.1
15-24
58.7
33.1
8.2
737.7
16.5
-16.0
-0.5
25-44
49.9
34.4
15.7
1,888.2
-2.6
-1.2
3.8
45-64
54.0
30.1
15.8
1,064.0
0.1
-3.8
3.7
Total(a)
36.9
35.6
27.4
8,537.2
4.1
-6.4
2.3

(a) Includes persons 65 years or older.

Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Surveys, August 1988 and August 1998.


Changes for men and women
Patterns of change have differed for men and women in different age groups. The overall shift in proportions working long hours between 1988 and 1998 was about the same for both men and women (3.1 percentage points). However, the increased proportions working longer hours were largely restricted to those aged between 25 and 64. The distributional shift was most pronounced for men aged 45-64 (among whom the proportion working 45 hours or more increased by 6.7 percentage points).

Both young men and women (aged 15-24) were considerably more likely to work part-time than they were ten years earlier. This shift reflects increased rates of underemployment among these relatively less experienced workers. Between August 1988 and August 1998, the proportion of young workers employed part-time and preferring to work more hours rose from 5% to 11%. The shift is also likely to be partly due to rising levels of participation in education in this age group (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Education - National summary tables).

Modest movements towards both long-hour employment (2.4 percentage points) and part-time work (1.7 percentage points) accounted for the 4.0 percentage point shift away from the usual full-time working week for men aged 25-44 years. For women in this age group, there was a shift away from part-time hours (2.6 percentage points) and usual full-time hours (1.2 percentage points) towards long full-time hours (3.8 percentage points). These divergent trends may, in part, be attributable to gender role change in couple families containing one or more dependent children as employed fathers become more likely, and employed mothers less likely, to work part-time to fulfil family responsibilities such as child care. Part-time employment among partnered and employed fathers with at least one dependent child at home increased from 3% to 6% between August 1988 and August 1998. Over the same period, part-time employment among comparable mothers decreased from 59% to 56%.

Despite these trends, in 1998, employed men aged 25-44 (41%) were marginally less likely than older employed men (43%), and considerably more likely than younger employed men (19%) and women of any age group, to be working long hours in paid work.

The increased proportion of men and women working part-time may have contributed to the increased likelihood for workers to have more than one job. In August 1997, 6.3% of employed women and 4.4% of employed men had more than one job. The respective proportions ten years earlier were 4.1% and 3.4%.2

HOURS WORKED(a) BY STATUS IN EMPLOYMENT AND OCCUPATION IN MAIN JOB, AUGUST 1988 AND AUGUST 1998

Distribution of weekly hours worked in August 1998
Percentage point change in distribution of weekly hours worked between 1988 and 1998


Less than
35 hours
35-44
hours
45 hours
or more
Total persons
Less than 35 hours
35-44
hours
45 hours
or more
%
%
%
'000
no.
no.
no.

Status in employment(b)
Employee
36.8
38.3
25.0
7,300.7
4.1
-7.9
3.8
Employer
22.4
18.7
58.8
349.6
-1.0
0.4
0.6
Own-account worker
40.6
21.4
38.0
819.2
6.0
-1.5
-4.5
Occupation
Managers and Administrators
19.2
22.2
58.6
625.2
0.3
–1.4
1.1
Professionals
30.4
36.1
33.5
1,527.5
0.2
-3.5
3.3
Associate professionals
23.2
32.1
44.6
881.3
-3.6
-6.6
10.2
Tradespersons and related workers
23.5
45.1
31.4
1,150.2
1.2
-4.7
3.5
Advanced clerical and service workers
51.1
37.5
11.4
397.7
9.3
-10.9
1.6
Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers
47.9
38.9
13.2
1,451.1
6.5
-7.6
1.0
Intermediate production and transport workers
28.9
38.6
32.5
783.0
5.2
-10.6
5.4
Elementary clerical, sales and service workers
62.8
26.5
10.7
860.9
12.2
-10.0
-2.1
Labourers and related workers
49.7
35.6
14.7
860.3
4.7
-4.1
-0.6
Total
36.9
35.6
27.4
8,537.2
4.1
-6.4
2.3

(a) By employed persons in all jobs.
(b) Excludes contributing family worker.

Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Surveys, August 1988 and August 1998.


Status in employment and occupation
The growth in long-hour employment has been confined largely to people who were employees in their main job (an increase of 3.8 percentage points). The proportion of own-account workers working at least 45 hours a week declined between 1988 and 1998. Despite this trend, own-account workers were still more likely than employees to be working at least 45 hours a week (38% of own-account workers compared with 25% of employees). Employers, and more generally those whose occupations were managers and administrators, were even more likely to be working such hours (59% in 1998). Of all managers and administrators, 26% worked at least 60 hours a week. The distribution of weekly hours worked by employers, and managers and administrators, changed little over the decade.

Other occupation groups displayed more marked movements away from a standard hours working week to part-time or long-hour employment, with sharper movements evident among less skilled occupations. More highly skilled non-managerial occupations tended to be shifting towards long-hour employment while less skilled occupations were generally more likely to be providing part-time employment in 1998 than in 1988.

The exceptions to this trend were advanced clerical and service workers, and intermediate production and transport workers. Although there was a small increase in the proportion of advanced clerical and service workers working long hours between 1988 and 1998 (1.6 percentage points increase), there was a much larger increase in the proportion working part-time (9.3 percentage points increase, from 42% to 51% of workers over the same time period).

Intermediate production and transport workers were considerably less likely to be working 35-44 hour weeks in 1998 (39%) than a decade earlier (49%). Yet there were similar rises in the proportions of this occupation group working part-time hours and long hours (just over 5 percentage points each).

INDUSTRIES WITH GREATEST PROPORTIONAL SHIFT TO VERY SHORT OR VERY LONG HOURS OF EMPLOYMENT, 1988 TO 1998

Percentage point increase from 1988 to 1998
Proportion of employed people in 1998
no.
%

Industries shifting to very short hours(a)
Working very short hours
Cultural and recreational services
4.9
27.7
Retail trade
3.9
29.8
Construction
2.3
14.0
Property and business services
2.1
16.6
Education
2.0
16.6
All industries
1.8
17.2
Industries shifting to very long hours(b)
Working very long hours
Mining
13.4
23.9
Electricity, gas and water supply
7.5*
9.0
Communication services
5.0*
6.8
Transport and storage
4.1
14.1
Construction
3.0
11.5
Personal and other services
2.6
7.7
Government administration and defence
2.0
3.8
All industries
0.8
9.1

(a) Less than 16 hours per week, on average, for all jobs held by employees in the industry.
(b) 60 or more hours per week, on average, for all jobs held by employees in the industry.

Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Surveys, August 1988 and August 1998.


Industry
Changes in the distribution of weekly hours worked in the past ten years have varied considerably for different industries. These trends are highlighted when focussing on shifts in the proportion of employed people working very short and very long hours (i.e. less than 16 hours and at least 60 hours per week, respectively).

Between 1988 and 1998, two service industries, cultural and recreational services (4.9 percentage points) and retail trade (3.9 percentage points) exhibited the most pronounced movement towards employing people for very short hours. These industries employ relatively high proportions of women and of part-time workers. They are also industries experiencing strong growth in employment (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Changing industries, changing jobs).

In contrast, two production industries, mining (13.4 percentage points) and electricity, gas and water supply (7.5 percentage points) have experienced the largest proportional shift to very long hour employment. These industries continue to be dominated by male full-time workers. They are also industries in which employment has been in decline. Employment in mining declined by 9% between 1988 and 1998 and in electricity, gas and water supply by 39%. It may be that the need to cut costs in an environment of increased competition, and the associated employment decline, has contributed to the increase in hours worked among employees. Extending working hours for fewer numbers of staff might, in many instances, be less costly than the overheads associated with recruiting, training, equipping and retrenching staff engaged to work more usual hours.



International comparison

Australia has a higher proportion of people working long-hour jobs than many other OECD countries. While the trend to working long hours has also occurred in a number of other countries, as shown below, this trend has not been uniform. Employment in long-hour jobs has also been falling in some countries.

Most OECD countries have legislated maximum weekly working hours of between 48 and 60 hours. Australia, like Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, has no legal maximum. Employers are able to offer employees heavy workloads and employees are free to accept such offers.

The OECD Economic Outlook report, from which these data have been obtained, also reveals that like Australia, the trend to short-hour employment has been occurring in many other countries.

Working time reforms in a number of continental European countries (e.g. France and Germany) have, over recent years, sought to encourage work-sharing arrangements. These reforms have been oriented to realising working time reductions for employees working long hours.3
EMPLOYED PEOPLE WORKING AT LEAST 45 HOURS A WEEK, 1985 AND 1994, SELECTED COUNTRIES

Men
Women


1985
1994
1985
1994
%
%
%
%

Australia
30.2
38.1
9.6
13.6
Belgium
5.0
5.5
1.6
3.0
Canada
20.1
23.1
6.1
7.7
Denmark
8.6
15.0
2.1
5.6
France
12.1
15.0
4.7
6.1
Germany
10.0
8.3
4.3
3.0
Greece
17.3
20.2
8.6
13.2
Italy
11.5
13.6
4.5
5.7
Japan(a)
50.1
36.7
22.7
15.8
Netherlands
13.0
1.8
2.4
0.4
Portugal(b)
59.2
26.2
41.6
12.5
Spain
11.2
11.6
11.0
5.9
Sweden(b)
15.3
17.1
4.5
5.5
United Kingdom
36.2
41.5
6.9
10.9
United States of America(a)
24.7
27.0
8.8
11.1

(a) More than 48 hours a week.
(b) 1987 and 1994.

Source: OECD, 1998, Employment Outlook.


Working after hours
The growing diversity of working arrangements, described above, suggests that working 'unsocial hours' (in the evening or on weekends) has also been increasing. Information from ABS time use surveys conducted in 1992 and 1997 indicate that this has occurred, although the magnitude of change over these five years has not been large. For example, the proportion of people working between 6pm and 6am increased from 35% to 37%. A slight increase in the proportion of people working on weekends also occurred.

Between August 1993 and August 1997, the proportion of employees able to work extra hours to be able to take time off increased from 34% to 38%.4 This more widespread access to flexible working hours may mean that a greater proportion of employees paid to work approximately 40 hours a week are able to work less than 35 hours in one week and more than 44 the next according to workload and personal preference. Wider access to more flexible working hours may have already had some impact on the number of people working 35-44 hours in any given week, and may contribute to further reduced likelihood of employed persons consistently working between 35 and 44 hours per week in the future.

PEOPLE WORKING IN THE EVENING, AT NIGHT AND ON THE WEEKEND, 1992 AND 1997

1992
1997
Time of day and day of week
%
%

Outside daytime hours (6pm-6am)
35.1
36.7
Evening (6pm-10pm)
29.4
30.0
Night (10pm-6am)
16.1
17.4
Weekend
13.6
14.1
Weekday daytime (6am-6pm)
84.7
83.6
Persons reporting employment
100.0
100.0

Source: Unpublished data, 1992 and 1997 Time Use Surveys.


Endnotes

1 Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACCIRT) November 1998, Work/Time/Life: Reclaiming the working time agenda (An issues paper for the Australian union movement), ACCIRT, Sydney.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Multiple Jobholding, Australia, August 1997, cat. no. 6216.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development June 1998, 'Working hours: latest trends and policy initiatives' in Employment Outlook, pp. 153-188, OECD, Paris.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Working Arrangements, Australia, August 1997, cat. no. 6342.0, ABS, Canberra.

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