Part-timers up against the wall

GABRIELLE Whitehead worries about coffee - but not for the reasons covered in the lifestyle magazines.

''There's always stress about whether you're going to run out of money. You are looking in the coffee jar, measuring things out, wondering if you're going to have money to refill the jar,'' she says.

Ms Whitehead is in her early 50s and lives near Ballarat. She is part of an army of Australians who work part-time, and want more work - but simply can't find it.

Of Australia's 11.5 million employed people, 8.1 million work full-time. There are now 3.4 million Australians in part-time positions. And of these people, a quarter want to work more, the Australian Bureau of Statistics says.

Figures out yesterday from the ABS show rising numbers of casuals in the workforce - one in five Australians now works in a casual position.

And unemployment figures released last week show 5.2 per cent of Australians out of work (Victoria is worse, with the nation's worst mainland unemployment rate, of 5.8 per cent).

But while it's the unemployment figures that attract the media focus, less attention goes to people like Ms Whitehead.

''I would rather do full-time,'' says Whitehead, who works at Ballarat University but who has looked further afield to Melbourne. She previously worked for IBM, at its Ballarat office, but found herself classified as a casual despite working full-time hours.

She moved to the university, where she is much happier - but making ends meet is still a struggle.


She says underemployment is seldom recognised, but is something that hurts so many people she knows. ''Everything has to be stretched continually because you've got a lessened income.''

Former deputy prime minister Brian Howe, in a speech this week to the National Press Club, said underemployment went ''under the radar'' too often, and that the standard unemployment measure ignored the 7 per cent who wanted to work more hours.

While a quarter of part-time workers want more hours, most are happy with the amount they work; employers argue there is an increasing role for part-time and temporary jobs.

Jeff Doyle, chief executive of human resources company Adecco, says that when his company talks to people they place in part-time or temporary jobs, two out of three are happy with the hours.

''It's a lifestyle thing,'' says Mr Doyle, who stressed he was not saying there weren't many people who wanted full-time jobs. ''But bigger blocks of people are wanting to either work four hours a day, or work one month and then have a break.''

He predicted temporary employment, rather than permanent positions, would also boom in the years ahead.

''Temporary employment will grow annually by between 4 and 5 per cent, and we are predicting total employment will grow between 2 and 2.5 per cent,'' he says.