Hours Fall For Underemployed Not The Overworked, Study Finds 1

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25th November 2009, 01:00pm - Views: 617

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Strictly embargoed Thursday 26 November 2009

Hours fall for underemployed not the overworked, study finds

During the global financial crisis workers who stayed in their jobs did not reduce their working hours, despite

widespread government and commentator claims that cuts in hours had helped stem job losses during the

downturn, new University of Sydney research shows.

The study, conducted by the University’s Workplace Research Centre, found that while the lives of people

who remained with the same employer stayed relatively unchanged or even improved, those who entered a

new job, or who changed employer, felt the impact of the global financial crisis most keenly.

The findings are from The Australia at Work study, which is tracking 8,000 workers over five years and is the

largest and most up-to-date study of Australian working life. The third annual report includes data from 2008

and the first half of 2009, a period when the GFC was at its peak.

“The average working week remained high at 44 hours per week, exactly the same level as the first two years

of our survey” said John Buchanan, one of the report’s authors and Director of the Workplace Research


“The relatively low unemployment rate and reported drop in working hours have led politicians and

commentators to jump to the conclusion that employees are downshifting from full-time to part-time jobs.”

He added: “We found no evidence to support the contention that job losses have been mitigated by de facto

work-sharing. The most significant change in work hours was experienced by those who changed jobs.”

Workers who entered new jobs during the study period were also worse off in other ways, the researchers

found. “Some 35 per cent of those who changed jobs experienced a cut in pay,” Dr Buchanan said. 

“Workers who entered the job market or who changed jobs in the past year were also more likely than other

workers to enter into precarious forms of employment, such as casual jobs without entitlements to paid


While those who changed jobs were likely to be negatively affected during the GFC, the report found

evidence that those who remained in their job either weren’t personally affected by the GFC, or they actually

reported improved living conditions.

“The number of people who reported they were finding it ‘very difficult’ or ‘difficult’ to get by on their

current household income dropped from 20 per cent in 2008 to 16 per cent in 2009,” said Sally Wright, one of

the report’s co-authors and a research analyst with the Workplace Research Centre.

“Those who reported ‘living comfortably’ or ‘doing really well’ increased from 41 to 45 percent during the

same period. This suggests lower interest rates, a fall in some basic living costs such as petrol, and stimulatory

cash hand-outs all helped to lighten to load on families.” 

Australia at Work: In a Changing World, is jointly funded by the Australian government and Unions NSW

through an Australian Research Council Linkage grant. It will be released this Thursday 26 November.

Interviews: John Buchanan (mob 0418 207 945) and Sally Wright (mob 0407 438 026.)

Media Contact: Kath Kenny, 0434 606 100 (University of Sydney Media Office)

Australia at Work: In a Changing World: Call for a copy of the report, or download (from Thursday morning)

Some other key report findings:

People Feature University Of Sydney 2 image


Around eight per cent of all respondents lost a job in the last year, and around two-fifths of these are

now in a new job. 

More people reported a greater sense of job insecurity compared to the previous year’s report, from

7 to 12 per cent – but this was still relatively lower than might be expected, given the economic

context of the GFC. 

Only 22 per cent of employees reported a collective agreement determines their wages and

conditions, which is concerning given collective bargaining is at the heart of the Government’s new

Fair Work Laws. 

Casual employees – the largest source of employment growth in the last 15 years – are much less

likely than permanent employees to feel they have the opportunity to negotiate their pay and


During the economic downturn less people entered into jobs with paid leave. Among workers

changing jobs in 2008-09, 21 per cent were entitled to paid leave, compared to 28 per cent in 2007-08. 

The presence of unions in the workplace, public sector employment and the absence of voice among

workers all positively influenced the likelihood of joining a union. 

Managers’ opposition to unions is more prominent in the core private sector workplace, with the

strongest perception of opposition to unions in key blue collar industries such as mining and


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