Considerable variations in the situation of part-time workers

A study based on findings from the French Labour Force Survey, which looks at working time and employment status, provides a greater insight into the situation of part-time workers. Dividing part-time workers into six main groups, the study shows that the situations of these workers vary considerably in relation to aspects such as the number of working hours, type of employment contract, number of employers for whom they work and regularity of their working schedules.

Characteristics of part-time workers

At first glance, the situation of part-time workers seems very homogenous: 83% of part-time workers are women, while 90% of part-time jobs are found in the services sector and 60% of these jobs are held by clerks. However, when working time organisation is considered, the situation of part-time workers appears to be much more variable.

In September 2007, the Ministry of Labour’s Directorate for Research, Analysis and Statistics (Direction de l’animation de la recherche, des etudes et des statistiques, DARES) published a study on the labour market situation of part-time workers (Six figures de l’emploi à temps partiel). The study is based on findings from the country’s Labour Force Survey (L’enquête emploi) and uses seven ‘active’ variables to build the following categories in relation to working time: number of hours worked each week; number of days worked; working on Saturdays, Sundays or evenings; type of employment contract; and regularity of working time schedules. Complementary variables – namely, gender, age and family status – were used to describe more precisely the workers within these groups.

Six major types of part-time work

The study identifies the following six categories of part-time workers, whose characteristics and working conditions vary considerably.

Voluntary part-time work

People in this category represent 31% of part-time workers. These workers mainly hold open-ended employment contracts in the public and financial services sectors, and the majority (91%) of them are women. Most workers in this category are aged between 30 and 49 years, have a husband who works full time and two children who are often under six years of age. Individuals in this group work over 21 hours a week – 53% of whom work over 30 hours a week – over four or five days, with regular working time schedules and no atypical working times. Compared with the other groups of part-time workers, these workers are the most satisfied with their working time.

Irregular and long part-time hours

Some 19% of part-time workers fall into this group, which is characterised by relatively long working times – of over 21 hours a week for 65% of workers in this category – frequently at weekends or evenings and with irregular working time schedules. A major difference which emerges within this group relates to the sector of economic activity: those who work in the healthcare and education sectors, representing half of the workers in this group, have a shorter working week than part-time workers who are employed in the retail trade, and hotels and restaurants sectors, at three compared with five days a week respectively. The majority of workers in this category hold open-ended employment contracts and frequently choose to work part time for personal reasons, for example, due to childminding or study commitments. Most of them have a spouse who works full time and two children. These workers are generally satisfied with their working time.

Regular and short part-time hours

Conversely, people in this group – which comprise 22% of part-time workers – are characterised as having a short working week of less than 18 hours, along with regular and standard working time schedules. Some 30% of people in this category work for individual employers, while 25% work for a number of employers. The majority of these workers are aged over 50 years, have no child(ren) under 18 years of age and have an inactive or unemployed spouse.

Six-day and multi-employer part-time work

Some 9% of part-time workers fall into this category, which is characterised by relatively long working hours – of over 20 hours a week for 40% of workers in this group – and spread out over six days a week. Moreover, about 25% of people in this category work for more than one employer. The majority of these workers would like to work more hours and, if possible, on a full-time basis. Most of them are non-qualified workers who work in occupations such as those of home-helpers, caretakers, check-out assistants, couriers and cleaning operatives. A large number of them are single parents.

Young part-time workers

About 14% of part-time workers hold fixed-term employment contracts with short working times of less than 18 hours a week over a period of three days, and with irregular working time schedules. Evening and weekend work is also more frequent compared with other groups of part-time workers. Young, frequently male workers comprise a large proportion of workers in this category. In many cases, they live alone or with their parents. People in this category are largely non-qualified workers who may find it difficult to secure a full-time job. However, more qualified young workers can also be found in this category, and may take on such jobs because they have another activity or want to continue with their studies. In the latter case, a high proportion of people in this category are engaged in artistic or teaching activities.

Subsidised jobs

Only 5% of part-time workers fall into this category, which is characterised by regular work schedules, spread over five days a week. The majority of these workers are aged between 15 and 29 years, and 30% of them are men. Most of them are looking for another job with longer working hours and are mainly employed in non-qualified jobs, either by the government or local public authorities or in the construction industry.

Anne-Marie Nicot, ANACT

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