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In the Australian job market, flexibility is the name of the game

Data show that Australians are keen on working fewer hours than the norm

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01 March 2017

A 37.5-hour working week may be the norm in industry awards and agreements, but most employed Australians typically work shorter or longer hours. This is reflected in data the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects from households as part of its monthly Labour Force Survey.

Only a minority of Australians actually report working 37.5 hours per week, as many are employed in part-time jobs. According to the ABS, about 19 per cent of men and 48 per cent of women in paid employment report usually working less than 35 hours per week.

The average weekly hours of ordinary-time work (that is, not including overtime) for full-time non-managerial adult employees on award rates of pay was 37.4 hours.

But the overall state of work in the country is marked by diversity. A large proportion of Australians − around 30 per cent of employed men and 11 per cent of employed women − report usual working hours of 45 or more each week.

What's more telling of the trends in employment is that the declining number of hours worked is consistent with working preferences.

The drop of usual weekly hours of work from 36.9 in 2002 to 35.7 in 2016 was due to continued growth in the share of part-time employment and a decline in the share of people working long hours, while underemployment has been often reported, representing nine per cent of employed workers,

Another important feature of working time is the extent to which hours worked are consistent with worker preferences.

About 16 per cent of all employed persons would prefer to work more hours each week (this proportion comprises mostly of part-time employees) and about 26 per cent would prefer to work fewer hours. Which means that Australia might have an overemployment issue, which has not been part of the national dialogue on employment.

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