Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Liveability: human well-being (continued)

Social and economic well-being (continued)

The changing nature of work

  • Participation in paid work and unemployment
  • Changing structure of occupations
  • Regional variations in participation in work and job opportunities
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    A significant change has been occurring in the industry structure of employment, in the nature of work and how it is organised, and the expectations held by individuals regarding their careers. Australia's employment scene, like that of all industrialised nations, wears the stamp of rapid transformation, including economic restructuring and technological change. Individuals now expect to change jobs throughout their working life.

    Participation in paid work and unemployment

    Over the past two decades or so, transformations in the economy have resulted in roller-coaster unemployment rates, shifts in the balance of blue-collar and white-collar workers, shifts in male-female shares of employment, a shift from full-time to part-time work, and expanded hours on the job for people in work. Despite almost a decade of economic growth, in June 1999 the national unemployment rate stood at 6.9%, or a total of 648 500 people (Table 32). This was down from higher rates of unemployment earlier in the 1990s, but higher than during the boom years of the late 1980s, and it is certainly much higher than rates in the 1960s and early 1970s.

    Table 32: Labour force characteristics, 1984-1999. [HS Indicator 5.3]
    Type 1984 1989 1994 1999
      n ('000s) % n ('000s) % n ('000s) % n ('000s) %
    Unemployed 634.1
    Part-time 1 155.6
    1 595.2
    1 902.3
    2 344.3
    Labour force participation
    Male 4 042.1
    4 570.6
    4 534.8
    4 977.6
    Female 2 456.6
    3 149.9
    3 357.9
    3 816.0

    Source: ABS (2000c and various years).

    Over the same period, Australia's labour force became characterised by a much greater incidence of part-time work. By 1999, part-time jobs accounted for 26.7% of all jobs, compared to 17.8% in 1984, with a peak of 31.8% having been reached in 1994. There was also an increase in the level of female labour force participation to 53.8% in 1999, while male labour force participation fell from 76.3% in 1984 to 72.5% in 1999. As the numbers of part-time workers has increased, there has been a trend towards longer working hours for those working full time. In the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, the proportion of workers working more than 45 hours per week increased from 25.5% to 28.0% (ABS 1999g, 2000h). This is consistent with a global trend (Thomas 2000).

    More flexible work practices are having an effect in various ways. Table 33 shows the proportion of employed persons working at least part of the time at home grew from 22% to 26%, while the number of persons employed full time at home increased marginally from 3.5% in 1989 to 4.0% in 1995. A recent study by Newton and Wulff (1999) shows that the most dramatic changes have been for that category of the workforce (approximately 26%) who are working at home for significant periods of time during each week as an alternative to their office-frequently at night and weekends. This group is also working longer hours, is drawn from the ranks of professional occupations, and is more likely to be concentrated in the inner and middle ring suburbs of Australia's cities.

    Table 33: Employed persons working at home, April 1989 and September 1995. [HS Indicator 3.8]
    Employment at home April 1989 September 1995
      Persons ('000s) % Persons ('000s) %
    Worked no hours at home 5 933.0
    6 191.5
    Worked some hours at home 1 750.2
    2 149.0
    Persons employed at home 266.6
    Total 7 683.3

    8 340.6

    Source: ABS (1996f).

    This trend is linked to a growth in the proportion of Australians working online as well as being linked to the Internet (see 'A digital divide').

    Changing structure of occupations

    Significant occupational restructuring has been occurring in Australia, characterised by strong growth in service occupations and reduced growth in occupations associated with the old manufacturing economy. The key changes have been in relation to occupations tied closely to the emerging economic specialisations associated with globalisation and the information economy (Brain 1999, Reich 1991). They are highly paid with generally high levels of human capital as a requisite. They are concerned with problem solving, problem identification and strategic brokering activities. These occupations and the supporting services on which they rely have become key drivers of productivity and of economic growth in recent years.

    In contrast, a range of occupations associated with the old manufacturing economy and low-skilled service jobs have become less important. Individuals in these industries have witnessed a decline in job security and reduced economic fortunes. The demise is a result of both industrial restructuring and deskilling through technological change, both of which have made some jobs less secure.

    Census data show that, between 1986 and 1996, management, professional, para-professional and clerical occupations gained increasing shares of employment. These occupations are heavily represented in the new sectors of the service and information economy. In contrast, the share of employment declined for tradespersons, labourers, and production and transport workers, who are more closely associated with the old industrial economy (Table 34).

    Table 34: The changing occupational structure of Australia's workforce, 1986-1996.
    Occupation Share of employed persons (%)
      1986 1996
    Managers 8 9
    Professionals 13 18
    Paraprofessionals 7 11
    Clerical 28 30
    Tradespersons 14 13
    Production and tradespersons 11 8
    Labourers 10 8
    Other 9 3
    Total 100 100

    Source: ABS(1996a).

    This disparity between winners and losers in occupational terms has been likened to boats in a rising tide (Reich 1991). The winner occupations are in a boat that is rising, with the national economic tide, while the loser occupations are in a boat that is sinking. And these winning occupations are highly concentrated in the big cities, particularly in the inner city areas. Sydney especially has a disproportionately high national share of those jobs.

    Regional variations in participation in work and job opportunities

    Table 35 shows there are significant differences across the settlement hierarchy and between the major cities in labour force participation. The major urban areas and the rural balance areas have lower rates of unemployment and commensurate levels of labour force participation. The higher level of employment in the rural balance can be explained by high levels of employment on family properties, and the fact that those who are unable to find work in these regions migrate to larger cities and towns.

    Table 35: Regional differences in labour force characteristics, 1996. [HS Indicator 5.3]
    Region Employed ('000s) Unemployed ('000s) Not in the labour force ('000s) Labour force participation rate (%) Unemployment rate (%)
    Section of state
    Major urbanA 4 943.7 479.7 3 251.2 62.5 8.8
    Other urbanB 1 612.6 192.3 1 278.7 58.5 10.7
    Bounded localityC 163.5 19.6 145.6 55.7 10.7
    Rural balanceD 908.9 80.2 497.2 66.5 8.1
    Australia 7 636.3 772 5 174.2 61.9 9.2
    Major population centres
    Sydney 1 684.3 133.6 1 056.1 63.3 7.4
    Melbourne 1 402.1 139.4 919.2 62.6 9.0
    Brisbane 665.9 63.2 403.9 64.3 8.7
    Perth 560.3 49.5 346.7 63.8 8.1
    Adelaide 440.8 51.4 339.3 59.2 10.4
    Newcastle 177.1 22.9 149.5 57.2 11.4
    Gold Coast-Tweed 140 20.8 108.5 59.7 12.9
    Canberra-Queanbeyan 167.9 13.1 73.4 71.1 7.3
    Wollongong 97.6 12.7 80 58.0 11.6
    Greater Hobart 78.7 8.4 59.2 59.5 9.7
    Sunshine Coast 55.8 10.2 50.6 56.6 15.4
    Geelong 58.9 8 48.3 58.1 12.0
    Townsville 54.2 5.5 28.9 67.4 9.2
    Cairns 51.1 4.5 21 72.5 8.1
    Launceston 38.3 4.7 31.3 57.9 11.0
    Albury-Wodonga 38.4 4.4 24.4 63.7 10.2
    Toowoomba 33.9 3.1 27.1 57.7 8.5
    Darwin 39.4 3.1 13.9 75.3 7.3

    AMajor urban means all urban centres with a population of 100 000 or more.
    BOther urban means all urban centres with a population of 1000 to 99 999.
    CBounded locality means all population clusters of 200-999 people.
    DRural balance means the rural remainder of the state or territory.

    Source: ABS(1998b).

    The differences in employment across the major population centres reflects the differential impact of economic restructuring across the big cities and the smaller urban centres. Metropolitan Sydney, Brisbane and Perth have suffered less from the long-term deleterious effects of economic restructuring than have Adelaide and Melbourne, whose industrial structure traditionally had been concentrated around manufacturing industries. Sydney, Perth and Melbourne have experienced more of the advantageous impacts of globalisation and the rise of new economy jobs. Some of the smaller cities, such as Newcastle and Geelong, have been adversely affected by the restructuring of Australia's industrial landscapes, while newer and rapidly growing urban areas such as Gold Coast-Tweed and the Sunshine Coast reflect the phenomenon of sun-belt migration (incorporating significant lifestyle, retirement and welfare streams, and tourism). However, unemployment rates are also relatively high in some of these sun-belt growth regions (Stimson et al. 1998).