Research Media Release

6 March 2012

Apprentice electricians are underpaid and undervalued, finds research

Despite Australia's critical shortage of skilled workers, many trade apprentices are living on a wage that falls below the poverty line and is barely higher than the unemployment benefit, according to research from the University of Sydney's Workplace Research Centre (WRC).

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22 July 2009

Unemployment would have been much worse in Australia if there had not been a 'tacit form' of job sharing in many workplaces, while many part-time employees and contractors have suffered an 'involuntary' cut in hours.


Analysis by the University of Sydney's Workplace Research Centre has found that the number of hours worked in the economy has declined by the equivalent of 200,000 full-time positions in the past year while actual employment has only fallen by a net 25,000 jobs.

Mike Rafferty, a senior research analyst at the centre, said part of the reason was that employers were reluctant to shed staff after suffering staff shortages before the downturn.

'Labour shortages that occurred in the last two or three years are still having a psychic effect on employers,' he said.

This is in contrast to the early 1990s recession in Australia and what is now going on in many other advanced economies where unemployment has increased.

Part of the reason was that the mining boom drew many highly skilled and semi-skilled workers away from blue collar industries, which meant keeping staff was crucial to employers.

While employers have hoarded labour and slashed the hours of part-time staff, there have also been co-operative agreements in certain sectors, such as the automotive industry, Mr Rafferty said.

Blue collar unions say that in the car parts sector, particularly among smaller operators, it has been common for the four-day week to be introduced as a way to save jobs while Holden has also slashed hours in an innovative agreement with unions.

21st July 2009

Productivity, skills and working time: overcoming unemployment now and jobless growth in the recovery.


The WRC has just released new data that clarifies the key policy challenges of our time: rising unemployment today, jobless growth in the recovery and unstable productivity growth.

The arguments are outlined below:

The key policy challenge is not to 'restore growth' but rather to change the current growth trajectory.?This is needed because there were deep-seated problems in the labour market prior to the current downturn. Prime among these have been:

  • Deepening wage inequality
  • Growing extended hours of work among full timers and involuntary part-time work amongst part-timers
  • A secular rise in non-standard, especially casual and contractor forms of employment
  • A falling rate of productivity growth.

As the downturn has commenced full-time casuals and contractors have been the first to lose out.?There are fewer of these workers now than a year ago as they are replaced by part-timers

At the peak of the last cycle employer reports of skill shortages coincided with data on significant underutilisation of skilled labour. In 2007 forty percent of employers noted they did not make full use of the workers' talents.

The key lessons from previous recoveries have been:

  • Employer interest in maximising output and profits results in jobless growth as new approaches to hours of work and non-standard employment are used to maximise returns to business
  • This underpins an initial burst in productivity growth that then tapers off.

The starkest labour market indicators of this have been:

  • Rising levels of unpaid overtime amongst full timers and rising levels of under-employment amongst part-timers
  • The paradox of excess demand for and under-utilisation of skilled labour

These trends highlight the importance of devising a new approach to managing working time and skill formation now and in the impending recovery. In particular there is a need for a fairer and more sustainable distribution of hours of work.?The achievement of this will only be possible with the emergence of more effective approaches to workforce development.

Encouragingly there is evidence that both are emerging in a tentative way during the current down-turn

  • Across the economy while hours of worked have declined by the equivalent of 200,000 effective full time workers in the last year, only 25,000 jobs have actually disappeared.?This means that a tacit form of work sharing has already occurred
  • Negotiations in sectors like the car industry are focusing how to devise new ways of linking work sharing, workforce development in the down time and income support for the workers doing shorter hours.?Such a new deal not only saves jobs and living standards now, it provides a platform rapid, employment intensive growth in the future.

These developments, however, are only weakly supported by public policy. There is a need for a new deal on working time and workforce development.?This is vital to ensure we have employment intensive growth and sustainable improvements in productivity in short to medium term.?Without such a new deal the patterns of the past will be repeated.

At the presentation the authors will outline the key elements of what the elements of such a new deal should contain

A?summary of the key data supporting these arguments provided in the attached working paper.

For further details contact Serena Yu and/or Mike Rafferty on 9351 5626.