Workers down to a slower week in sluggish economy
AUSTRALIANS are working an average of 32 hours a week, the lowest in more than 30 years, as employers turn to part-time jobs, flexible working hours and casualisation in a softening economy.
Detailed labour force data released by the Bureau of Statistics this week shows a downward trend in the average number of hours worked, while the proportion of employees who work full-time has fallen since the 1980s.
"We know that over the last 12 to 18 months, conditions have been very tough on the economy and activity has been sluggish, especially for the retail sector," Commonwealth Securities economist Savanth Sebastian said.
"As a result, while businesses are planning for a future turnaround and holding on to key staff, they are trying to maintain a lower cost base and that means cutting hours back, even for some of those full-time workers."
Stephen Bali of the Australian Workers' Union Greater NSW branch said some members of his union had found themselves under pressure to work additional hours without pay, while others had been placed on flexible work contracts.
"Flexibility is usually one way - it's what the employer needs and what the employer wants," Mr Bali said.
"It's from the employers' point of view and they want to turn on and off workers. But workers are humans and not machines."
Ben Perry, who runs an events and branding business, said he had to resign from his previous job so he could reduce work hours and spend more time with his young children.
"For one year, I tried to cut back down to four days a week [in my previous job], but what I found is that you keep getting brought back to work," Mr Perry said.
"I was spending more time worrying about what was happening at work. I kept getting frustrated that I was getting paid four days a week when in my mind I wasn't shutting down on the five days."
A shifting workforce has also seen a record number of seniors in Australia's job market.
While the participation rate - the percentage of people either in work or looking for work - was at five-year lows at just above 65 per cent by the end of last year, a record number of people aged above 65, at 12 per cent, were entering the job market, the Bureau of Statistics data showed.
The average participation rate for those aged above 60 was also at a record-high of 53.4 per cent.
"They won't be working full-time. They'll be working a lot of those casual hours, and I think that will be adding to the slide that we've been seeing in the average hours worked," Mr Sebastian said.
The lower participation rate has been a key reason why the employment rate has not risen sharply in the past year despite growing evidence of a softening economy as investment in the mining sector peaks, JPMorgan economist Tom Kennedy said.
A further shift towards part-time work was also expected as growth slows, consumer income and domestic spending fall and businesses shy away from increasing their headcount, he said.
"The key trend we are looking at over the next few months is a rising jobless rate. So the low at 5.2 per cent that we had the month prior to this one we estimate will get to about 6 per cent by December this year," Mr Kennedy said.