High incidence of part-time work among women

In Austria there is a very high rate of women working part time compared to most other EU Member States. Moreover, because part-time work among women is most prevalent in typically low-wage sectors, this further expands the gender-related pay gap. The high uptake of part-time work by women is due primarily to the care obligations that many women face and the lack of full-time jobs appropriate to their needs (many employers offer only part-time jobs for flexibility reasons). However, trade unions and other organised labour groups have called for restrictive measures on this type of business practice.

Low wage sectors and part-time work

According to the most recent figures provided by Statistics Austria (Statistik Austria) for the second half of 2004, only six out of 10 female employees in Austria were employed on a full-time basis. The microcensus labour force survey carried out in 2005 by Statistics Austria reveals that, in 2004, some 689,900 employees – representing 21.1% of the country’s employees – were part-time workers working a maximum of 35 hours a week. Statistics indicate that 39.9% of female employees work part time, compared with only 5% of male employees.

The retail and wholesale trade sector has a high incidence of women working in part-time jobs – almost one half of all female workers (48.7%). Similarly high incidences can be found in the health and social services sector and in the business-related services sector: in both fields, about 43% of women work part time. Relatively low wages characterise all of these sectors.

In addition, the statistics reveal significant results with respect to occupational skills: the lower the formal qualifications and/or occupational position of the female employees, the higher the proportion of part-time workers among them. Hence, an increasing level of female part-time employment in typical low-wage sectors tends to widen the gender-related pay gap and frequently results in precarious living conditions among these workers; as a result, they fall into the category of the ‘working poor’ (EU0512NU03).

Greater availability of part-time jobs

Interestingly, the number of women working part time in Austria increased considerably during the period from 1997 to 2004, from around 28% to about 40% of women; the corresponding EU average proportion remained stable, at around 30%–32%. In Austria, the increased number of part-time jobs has resulted in a growth of women’s employment in absolute numbers. Nevertheless, the number of jobs in terms of full-time equivalents has declined slightly in recent years: according to calculations by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, WIFO), in the period 2000–2005, about 85,000 full-time jobs were lost and some 140,000 part-time jobs were created.

Reasons for working part time

In response to this surge in female part-time employment, studies were carried out over the past few years to find out women’s reasons for taking on part-time jobs. Although the findings of these studies differ in some respects, they share the conclusion that an increasing number of women feel that they must work on a part-time basis. This particularly applies to those who have been out of the labour market for some time: for such workers, part-time work is seen as the only avenue to returning to work.

In addition, it seems that there is currently a shortage of appropriate full-time jobs for many women. Statistics Austria data indicate that almost 10% of the female part-time workers surveyed would have preferred a full-time job but were unable to find a suitable position. Only 15% of female part-time employees declared that they would not a full-time job, even if they could find one. Furthermore, about 45% of female part-time workers stated that that child/family care responsibilities would prevent them working on a full-time basis.

Employers’ reasons for introducing part-time work

In comparison with other countries, the incidence of women holding a part-time job is remarkably high in Austria, with a steady upward trend over the last 15 years. The reason for this increase is that part-time work has increasingly been used by employers as a core strategy to increase flexibility and thus reduce costs, rather than as a simple to reduce working time. In principle, part-time work is protected by Austrian labour law in the same way as is ‘standard’ full-time employment. However, it is suspected that many employers are guilty of undermining legal regulations applying to part-time workers, particularly in terms of keeping inaccurate records of actual working hours (by including extra hours and overtime), and instituting illegal ‘just in time’ production arrangements during periods of higher demand for labour.

Moreover, childcare places for children aged less than three years are scarce in Austria, with an alleged shortfall of some 90,000 places, according to a 2003 study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (AT0404203F). This means that for many women – especially in rural areas – having children precludes any realistic prospect of pursuing a career, as ‘traditional’ careers are commonly reserved for full-time employees.

Views of the social partners

Austria’s employer organisations have emphasised the importance of the flexible use of part-time workers, particularly in order to meet companies’ greater, short-term demand for labour outside standard working hours. In contrast, trade unions and other organised labour groups have called for the creation of jobs that pay enough to ensure an adequate standard of living. They have also demanded sufficient numbers of public childcare places and the extension of opening hours in these facilities to enable mothers to take on full-time jobs.

Moreover, the trade unions consider that extra work performed by part-time workers should attract an additional premium payment in order to make it less attractive for employers to use part-time workers as flexible working-time ‘buffers’, or to split full-time jobs up into part-time roles.

Further information

Statistics Austria, Arbeitsorganisation und Arbeitszeitgestaltung, Modul der Arbeitskräfteerhebung, 2. Quartal 2004, Vienna, 2005.

Georg Adam, University of Vienna

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