New data demystifies shift workers

A recent analysis of Australian shift workers has revealed new insights into the demographics and experiences of hourly paid employees, who make up a growing portion of the overall workforce and account for a significant share of retail workers.

According to the inaugural Deputy Shiftwork Index released last week, which is based on data from nearly 1.5 million Australian shift workers on Deputy’s workforce management platform, the average Australian shift worker is rostered for 85 hours per month and works 92.8 hours per month. 

While both hours scheduled and hours worked fluctuate from month to month, across the board, they fall well below the equivalent hours of full-time employment, which is 164 hours per month. 

“This may be the result of lifestyle choices but it could also point to a trend of underemployment among the hourly paid workforce,” Deputy CEO Ashik Ahmed said in a statement about the report. 

The report comes at a time of rising part-time and casual employment, and falling full-time employment in Australia. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest labour force report, there were 4.1 million part-time workers in August this year, up from 3.6 million in August 2014. This represents a nearly 14 per cent increase, compared to the 8.6 per cent jump in the number of full-time employees over the same period. 

The Deputy report links the casualisation of the workforce to the rampant underpayment of wages and entitlements in the retail and hospitality sectors, which has drawn scrutiny from policy-makers and watchdogs and led to changes in employment laws. 

The recent introduction of new powers to the Fair Work Ombudsman in Australia, rollout of Fair Workweek laws in the US and implementation of the Good Work Plan policy in the UK all aim to provide fair wages to shift workers and give them greater control over scheduling. 

However, Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers’ Association, said policy-makers need to recognise that many workers today don’t want to be employed full-time and like the flexibility that comes with shift work. 

“The emphasis needs to be on the way in which people want to work now…not everyone wants a full-time position,” he told Inside Retail Weekly.

Indeed, he would like to see greater flexibility in shift scheduling, noting that under the General Retail Industry Award, retailers must give part-time workers seven days’ written notice of any schedule changes, or pay them overtime. 

“I think there’s a conversation we need to have,” he said. 

“I think you’d find there are people who would be happy to flex [their hours] up. They may not want to flex up more than 20 per cent [of their scheduled hours], but unfortunately when you raise that, people say you want to go back to Work Choices.” 

Zimmerman added that the retail industry has not seen an increase in casualistion, due to the strict regulations around offering casual workers full-time employment after rostering them on a regular basis for 12 months. 

Most shift workers are millennials

According to Deputy’s research, shift workers represent two-thirds of the working population globally, and are employed across a broad range of industries in Australia, from healthcare and tech to retail and hospitality. 

Nearly half of Australian shift workers are millennials (48 per cent), with Gen Z accounting for 29 per cent, Gen X for 16 per cent and Baby Boomers for 7 per cent. The average age of female shift workers is 28, and male shift workers is 29.

The quietest day for shift workers in FY19 was Thursday, while Fridays were the busiest, with most hours worked. Most shifts are scheduled, however, for Saturdays. 

The busiest day of the year for shift workers was June 12, 2019, while the quietest was March 14, 2019. March was also the quietest month, with fewest hours worked.


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