6265.0 - Underemployed Workers, Australia, Sep 2011 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/03/2012   
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For information on the institutional environment of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), including the legislative obligations of the ABS, financing and governance arrangements, and mechanisms for scrutiny of ABS operations, please see ABS Institutional Environment.


The Underemployed Workers Survey collects a range of information about the characteristics of underemployed workers aged 15 years and over. These include the number of hours usually worked, number of preferred hours, steps taken to find work with more hours, and difficulties in finding work with more hours.

Underemployed workers are employed people who would prefer and are available for more hours of work than they currently have. They comprise:

    • Part-time workers who want and are available for, more hours of work than they currently have, either in the reference week or in the four weeks subsequent to the survey
    • Full-time workers who worked part-time hours during the reference week for economic reasons (such as being stood down or insufficient work available). It is assumed that these people would prefer to work full-time in the reference week and would have been available to do so.

The number of underemployed workers contributes to measuring underutilised labour resources in the economy.


The Underemployed Workers Survey is conducted annually during September as a supplement to the monthly Labour Force Survey. Results from this survey are released approximately six months after the completion of enumeration (i.e. during February) in the publication Underemployed Workers, Australia (cat. no. 6265.0).

The Underemployed Workers Survey will to be conducted again in September 2011.


Estimates from the Underemployed Workers Survey are subject to sampling and non-sampling errors. Relative standard error (RSE) is a measure of the size of the sampling error affecting an estimate, i.e. the error introduced by basing estimates on a sample of the population rather than the full population. Non-sampling errors are inaccuracies that occur due to imperfections in reporting by respondents and interviewers, and errors made in coding and processing data.

The Underemployed Workers Survey was designed primarily to provide estimates at the Australia level. Broad estimates are available for State or Territory and Capital city/Balance of state/territory. Users should exercise caution when using estimates at these level because of the presence of high sampling errors. RSEs are available for all estimates in the Technical Note of the publication.


The Underemployed Workers Survey is the primary ABS data source on characteristics of underemployed workers. Information is also collected in the Labour Force Survey on a quarterly basis.

The conceptual framework used for this survey is described in Chapter 5 of Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods (cat. no. 6102.0.55.001). The statistics in this survey are comparable with other labour statistics produced by the ABS. The ABS definition of underemployment is consistent with the International Labour Organisation definition of time-related underemployment adopted in 1998.

The ABS has been conducting the Underemployed Workers Survey irregularly since 1985, and annually since 1994. Key changes made to the Underemployed Workers Survey since 1994 include:
  • Prior to September 1994, part-time workers who would prefer more hours of work were asked whether they were available to start work with more hours within the subsequent four weeks. From September 1994, an additional question was added to determine their availability to start work with more hours during the reference week. This question was added to the survey so that estimates of underemployment could be more easily aligned with the then current International Labour Organization (ILO) recommendations on underemployment.
  • As part of the 2001 LFS questionnaire redesign, people who were on short-term unpaid leave initiated by the employer, are now classified as employed. This approach is consistent with ILO recommendations on formal job attachment. Analysis of data from the LFS shows that many of these people usually worked part-time, and that a number of these had a preference to work more hours. However, overall, these people contribute only marginally to the change in part-time workers who would prefer more hours.
  • From July 2004, a change was made to the category 'considered too young or too old by employers' for the items 'all difficulties in finding work with more hours' and 'main difficulty in finding work with more hours'. The category has been split into 'considered too young by employers' and 'considered too old by employers'.
  • In September 2008 there was a substantial increase in the number of part-time workers who preferred more hours and underemployed workers. This was due to a change in the question being asked of part-time workers. From September 2008, part-time workers were asked "Would you prefer to work more hours than you usually work?". In previous surveys part-time workers were asked "Would you prefer a job in which you worked more hours a week?". The question was altered to be consistent with the LFS and is now a broader and more inclusive of people's situations as it relates to a preference for more hours of work. This change contributed to an additional 115,800 people who were classified as part-time workers who preferred more hours and an additional 131,500 people who were classified as underemployed workers in 2008. Users need to exercise care when comparing the number of part-time workers who preferred more hours and underemployed workers from 2008 onwards with previous releases because of this break in series.
  • Revisions are made approximately 5 yearly to population benchmarks for the Labour Force Survey and Supplementary Surveys to take into account the Census of Population and Housing. Estimates since 2010 incorporate revised Net Overseas Migration estimates, published in the September 2008 and September 2009 issues of Australian Demographic Statistics (cat. no. 3101.0). For further details on population benchmarks, see Labour Force Survey (cat. no. 6202.0).
For more information on changes to the survey see Chapter 21.14 of Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods (cat. no. 6102.0.55.001).


The Underemployed Workers publication contains tables with footnoted data and a Summary of Findings to aid interpretation of the results of the survey. Detailed Explanatory Notes, a Technical Note and a Glossary are also included providing information on the terminology, classifications and other technical aspects associated with these statistics.

Further commentary is often available through articles and data published in other ABS products, including:


Underemployed Workers, Australia (cat. no. 6265.0) is released electronically via the ABS website as a PDF publication. Additional data may be available on request (Subject to data quality). For a list of data items available see Appendix 2 of the publication. Note that detailed data can be subject to high relative standard errors and in some cases may result in data being confidentialised.

Labour underutilisation measures were published in Underemployed Workers, Australia (cat. no. 6265.0) in 2006-2008 however, are no longer presented in this publication. These measures are published annually in the April issue of Australian Labour Market Statistics (cat. no. 6105.0) and within Measures of Australia's Progress: Summary Indicators (Edition 2) (cat. no. 1383.0.55.001). From August 2009 they are also presented in the monthly Labour Force Survey (cat. no. 6202.0).

For further information about these or related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Centre on 1300 135 070 or Labour Statistics on (02) 6252 7206 or via email to <labour.statistics@abs.gov.au>.