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Crisis did not cut hours during the economic downturn

10 December, 2009

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 8000 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 Centre.

"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 leave."

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."
Source: University of Sydney

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