Young workers are increasingly having to find insecure, part-time work rather than full-time jobs. (ABC News: Stephanie Anderson)
The decade since the global financial crisis has seen the Australian economy roll through a couple of cycles.
- Half of the 1.85 million jobs created between 2008 and 2018 were part time
- Around three-quarters of the rise in part time work in the 15-to-25 year old age group is due to weak economic conditions
- There has been a shift to part-time work in every sector except finance and real estate
The mining construction boom came and went. Now the residential construction boom is rolling over.
Commodity exports powered up, then down, then up again.
There have been stops and starts. Bouts of optimism and pessimism.
There have been four governments and six changes of prime minister; and, while economic growth has largely limped along below both its potential and long-term average, strong jobs growth has been a constant.
All up, 1.85 million new jobs were created between 2008 and 2018. It has been a big factor in extending Australia’s recession-free world record to 27 years.
Roughly half those jobs — 885,000 to be exact — have been part-time.
All of which is great news, unless you are a young worker looking for full-time work, in which case the past decade has not been so kind.
The percentage of young people working part-time hours has risen over the past decade. (Supplied: Indeed)
Underemployed and overqualified in booming jobs market
Having entered the workforce at 15, 25-year-old Callum Lee has spent most of the past decade underemployed.
He studied to improve his chances at getting a good full-time job. Technically, he’s now a sommelier with internationally recognised qualifications, but works as a casual employee in a bottle shop.
Despite gaining qualifications as a sommelier, Callum Lee has been under-employed for a decade and works casually in a bottle shop. (Supplied: Callum Lee)
It’s a long way from ideal, but arguably more lucrative than the six years he spent at a marketing firm, trying to get a toehold in the liquor industry.
“They slowly whittled away my hours enough that I couldn’t afford to both pay rent and feed myself, so I decided to get a retail job instead of having a ‘real job’,” Mr Lee explained.
“I’d probably say it’s more infuriating than disheartening … living pay-check to pay-check, having zero safety net if I get sick or injured and no real consistency in workload week to week.”
But Mr Lee says he’s far from alone in the underemployed, under-protected zone of a booming jobs market.
“I’d say four-out-five of my friends who work casually hate their job, not because of the work they do, but because of the way their hours and pay are structured and the pressure of the environment they’re forced to work in,” he told ABC News.
“Basically, if you don’t perform above and beyond your duties, management will look to softly reduce your hours until you’re effectively unemployed, but without having to terminate you.
“So you have to work your ass off all the time just to keep the hours they need you for and, if you’re lucky, you’ll work hard enough that they’ll start giving you shifts that you don’t really want, but you need the money because you never know how much you’ll earn in a week.
“So you take them and end up doing six shifts on with one day off, or accidentally doing 13 shifts in a row.”
It’s the economy, stupid
Callam Pickering, the Asia-Pacific economist for the global jobs website Indeed, has pulled apart the reams of employment data over the past decade and found young workers have suffered from Australia’s lumpy economic performance.
Indeed economist Callam Pickering says the trend to part time work has largely been fuelled by a weak economy over the past decade. (Supplied: Indeed)
“A troubled economy over the past decade has forced many Australians into part-time roles they may not want. This is particularly true for younger workers,” Mr Pickering said.
“For example, around three-quarters of the rise in part-time work among younger workers aged 15-to-24 reflects weak economic conditions rather than a preference for part-time work over the past decade.”
Mr Lee says things haven’t improved for the underemployed over the past decade.
“I think it’s much easier to be exploited, especially living in Sydney,” he said.
“Pretty much everyone I know who is working casually is getting screwed by their employer but, given how brutal rent and the cost of living are, people really aren’t willing to push back on stuff, most people just look for new work and hope for the best.
“Also finding work without a degree, or a trade, that isn’t casual is incredibly difficult. Even positions that should be part-time work are either casual or contracted so that employees are more disposable.”
More than three quarters of the increase in part time work by younger Australians is due to poor economic conditions, according to Indeed
Not all bad
The rise of part-time work has not been bad for all workers.
“On the plus side, workplace flexibility has created a more inclusive labour force, allowing thousands of women and older Australians to join the workforce,” Mr Pickering said.
“Women in particular benefit from part-time and flexible working arrangements after childbirth, when it may be difficult to handle a full-time schedule.
“And older workers, instead of going cold turkey as they transition to retirement, often choose to shift to a part-time schedule.”
As Mr Pickering points out, some of it represents a greater demand for a less stressful work-life balance, with fewer Australians working overly long hours.
“Average full-time hours are declining as excessive hours become less common and fewer workers say they are overworked,” Mr Pickering said.
“In 2018, around 23 per cent of employees worked longer than 44 hours a week, down from 28 per cent a decade ago.”
Involuntary part-time work
But the trends among part-time and full-time workers are distinct.
Part-time employees on average are working 5 per cent more hours per week. At the same time, full-time employees are working 2 per cent fewer hours.
“Unfortunately, fewer hours and increased part-time work hasn’t been a boon for everyone. In fact, some of those working part-time are doing so involuntarily,” Mr Pickering noted.
“A lacklustre economy helps explain half of the part-time increase among workers aged 25-to-34 and almost two-thirds among workers over 55.
“The remainder represents an increased preference for part-time work — probably due to a combination of study and childcare for younger workers and a transition toward retirement for older workers.”
Once again, younger, casual workers are getting a rougher deal. More hours, doesn’t necessarily translate to greater fulfillment.
“I know in hospitality people are being rorted by their employees and overworked to a capacity where all they have is apathy,” Mr Lee said.
“I think another aspect is most business being understaffed and just forcing a key number of casual employees to be overworked for a short amount of time and then rotating them off.
“As nice as it is to have the income of a 46-hour work week, having that being shifted to something closer to 18 with no real say or control over the situation is really challenging.”
Young workers have seen the biggest reduction in their hours over the past decade. (Supplied: Indeed)
Is change coming?
The shift to part-time work is widespread, across almost every industry with the exception of finance and real estate.
In hospitality, around 60 per cent of jobs are now part-time, up from 55 per cent a decade ago, while a similar growth has been seen in retail where more than half the jobs are now part-time.
“Younger workers face an economy in which jobs increasingly are part-time and insecure, regardless of industry or occupation,” Mr Pickering said.
However, Mr Pickering said there has been a more positive trend over the past two years with more full-time opportunities being created.
“That may help reverse the long-term trend toward part-time and insecure work,” Mr Pickering observed.
“The great challenge for Australian employers is achieving that without creating an army of workers dissatisfied with their hours and lack of job security.
“That balance hasn’t yet been reached — not by a long shot — particularly among younger workers.”
Mr Lee is still pursuing his dream job in the wine industry — anywhere along the pipeline from a vineyard to a restaurant.
“The reason I’ve been working on getting more industry recognised certifications is to hopefully allow myself to find a better job with more humane conditions but, like most things, the field is fairly competitive.
“I’m always hopeful that the future will improve, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.”