Underemployed Workers

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)


    The Underemployed Workers (UEW) survey provides information about workers who are not fully employed, i.e. part-time workers who indicate that they would prefer to work more hours, and full-time workers who did not work full-time hours in the reference period for economic reasons. This group includes 'time-related underemployed' workers. Measures of underemployment supplement other measures of labour market slack such as the number of unemployed persons and discouraged job seekers.


    While basic data on underemployment are available from the Labour Force Survey, this supplementary survey provides greater detail on the characteristics and the job search activities of this important segment of labour underutilisation. The data also provide important support to policy formulation, as well as for labour market forecasts, and are an important source for those concerned with employment policy initiatives, and benefit and support programs.


    This survey is conducted as part of the Monthly Population Survey, which comprises the Labour Force Survey and, in most months, a supplementary survey topic.

    SCOPE - Labour Force Survey

    The Labour Force Survey includes all persons aged 15 and over except:

    • members of the permanent defence forces;
    • certain diplomatic personnel of overseas governments, customarily excluded from census and estimated populations;
    • overseas residents in Australia; and
    • members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants) stationed in Australia.

    From July 1993 Jervis Bay Territory is also excluded from the scope of the survey. Before July 1993 it was included in estimates for the Australian Capital Territory.

    SCOPE - Underemployed workers

    The scope of this survey was the same as that used for the Labour Force Survey (above), except that it is restricted to persons who worked less than 35 hours in the reference week who would have preferred more hours. This survey excludes students who were boarding at school, patients in hospitals and sanatoriums and inmates of reformatories, gaols, etc.

    From July 1997, all supplementary surveys excluded persons in remote and sparsely settled areas of Australia. The exclusion of these persons has only a minor effect on estimates for individual States or Territories.

    COVERAGE - Labour Force Survey

    In the Labour Force Survey, coverage rules are applied which aim to ensure that each person is associated with only one dwelling, and hence has only one chance of selection. The chance of a person being enumerated at two separate dwellings in the one survey is considered to be negligible.

    Persons who are away from their usual residence for six weeks or less at the time of interview are enumerated at their usual residence (relevant information may be obtained from other usual residents present at the time of the survey).


    Conceptual framework

    The conceptual framework used in Australia's Labour Force Survey aligns closely with the standards and guidelines set out in Resolutions of the International Conference of Labour Statisticians. Descriptions of the underlying concepts and structure of Australia's labour force statistics, and the sources and methods used in compiling these estimates, are presented in Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods (Cat. no. 6102.0).

    The labour force framework classifies the civilian population into three mutually exclusive groups: employed; unemployed; and not in the labour force. The employed and unemployed categories together make up the labour force. The third category (i.e. the residual) represents persons not in the labour force.

    In this survey, the largest population of interest is the part-time workers wanting to work more hours. The ABS conceptual framework for underemployment separates employed persons into two mutually exclusive groups:
  • workers who are fully employed; and
  • workers who are not fully employed, comprising:
    • part-time workers who want to work more hours, and
    • full-time workers who worked part-time hours in the reference week for economic reasons (due to insufficient work being available or being stood down).

Fully employed workers comprise: employed persons who worked full-time during the reference week (includes persons who usually work part-time); employed persons who usually work full-time but worked part-time in the reference week for non-economic reasons (including illness or injury; leave, holiday or flextime; and personal reasons) and part-time workers (usually work part-time and did so in the reference week) who do not want additional hours of work.

This diagram is the most recent conceptual framework for the Underemployed Workers survey 2003 collection. There have been a couple of major changes to the framework since the initial publication of the survey in 1985. For more information please refer to the relevant publications. Electonic copies are only available since September 1997.

The ABS underemployment framework classifies persons who are not fully employed according to whether they are looking for and/or available to start work with more hours. The framework separately identifies persons wanting full-time hours and persons wanting more part-time hours. These persons are further classified according to whether they had looked for extra work during the four weeks prior to the survey, and whether they were available to start extra work (either in the reference week or in the four weeks subsequent to the survey).

Persons who usually work full-time, but worked part-time in the reference week for economic reasons, are separately identified in the underemployment framework. It is assumed that these people wanted to work full-time in the reference week and would have been available to do so.


The ABS definition of the underemployed is consistent with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition of time-related underemployment.

According to the ILO definition adopted in 1998, time-related underemployment exists when the hours of work of an employed person are below a threshold, and are insufficient in relation to an alternative employment situation in which the person is willing and available to engage. More specifically, persons in time-related underemployment comprise all employed persons (as defined) who satisfy the following three criteria:
  • willingness to work additional hours - the ILO recommends that those who have actively sought to work additional hours should be distinguished from those who have not;
  • availability to work additional hours, within a specified subsequent period; and
  • worked less than a threshold (determined according to national circumstances) relating to working time - the ABS underemployment framework uses a threshold based on the boundary between full-time and part-time work. Only those persons working less than 35 hours in the reference week may be further classified as not fully employed.


The Underemployed Workers Survey is the primary ABS data source on underemployment. It provides a wide range of information about underemployed workers, including information on the number of hours usually worked, number of preferred hours, steps taken to find work with more hours, and difficulties finding work with more hours.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) collects summary information on underemployed workers on a quarterly basis. It measures only those underemployed workers who were actively looking for more hours of work in the four weeks to the end of the reference week and were available to work more hours in the reference week. Availability to work more hours in the four weeks subsequent to the survey is not currently measured in the LFS.

    Main outputs

    Results of the survey including data tables and analysis were released in publication format, and include the following tables:

      Employed persons

      Full-time or part-time workers and part-time workers who want more hours

      Underemployed Workers

      Part-time workers who want more hours

      Number and proportion of the labour force

      Usually work part-time and want more hours

      Duration of current period of insufficient work

      Looking for or available to start work with more hours last week

      Looking for or available to start work with more hours

      Preferred number of extra hours

      Main difficulty in finding work with more hours, preferred number of extra hours

      All steps taken to find work in the last four weeks

      Total number of extra hours preferred


      State or territory of usual residence


    Demographics: State, Area, Region, Sex, Marital Status, Relationship in Household, Period of Arrival and Age.

    Country of Birth: The Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC).

    Educational attainment: Australian Bureau of Statistics Classification of Qualifications (ABSCQ), and/or Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED).

    Other concepts (summary)

    Not applicable

    New South Wales
    South Australia
    Western Australia
    Northern Territory
    Part of State Metropolitan
    Part of State Extra-Metropolitan

    Comments and/or Other Regions

    Not all data available for all areas.


    Frequency comments

    The survey has been collected annually since September 1994. Prior to that it was run 3 yearly from May 1985.


    Over the time the survey has been conducted there have been some changes to the collection frequency and timing, and publication format.

    Initial survey conducted (May) - data published in Underemployed Workers, Australia (cat. no. 6265.0).
    Survey conducted (May). Family status classification changed to identify dependents and classification of post-school qualifications expanded.
    Survey conducted (May).
    Annual collection commenced (September). Sample restricted to no more than seven-eighths of the Labour Force Survey sample. Standard Data Service replaced publication format (cat. no. changed to 6265.0.40.001).
    Data item added to the survey:
      • whether part-time workers wanting more hours, who were available to start additional work within four weeks, were also available to start additional work last week.
    Data items no longer available:
      • occupation; and
      • industry.
    Publication format replaced Standard Data Service (cat. no. changed to 6265.0). Data items added to the survey:
      • duration of current period of insufficient work;
      • whether would move interstate if offered a suitable job;
      • whether would move intrastate if offered a suitable job;
      • whether would prefer to change occupation;
      • whether would prefer to change employer to work more hours; and
      • main difficulty in finding work.
    Persons living in remote and sparsely settled areas excluded from scope.
    From 2001 educational attainment data are classified according to the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED) (cat no. 1272.0).


    Data availability comments

    Publication Underemployed Workers, Australia (ABS Cat No. 6265.0)

    07/07/2011 03:00 PM