7 Nov 2018

Depth of underemployment problem not reflected in stats - union

7:17 pm on 7 November 2018

Unemployment has hit a 10-year low, but some workers are still struggling to get enough hours of work to make ends meet.

Piggy Bank.

Photo: 123RF

While more people are finding work, Auckland University student Holly Hendren resigned from the fast food restaurant she works at, because she could not get enough hours to pay her living costs.

The 18-year-old who started work in May needed to work 25 hours a week. However, over the last few months her hours were gradually reduced until she was working just four hours a week.

"It's incredibly frustrating and it leads a lot of people like myself to just have to go to another job, or jump from job to job. It leaves you in the position where you're entirely at the mercy of your manager," Ms Hendren said.

Her manager would not guarantee her more work, and she was searching for another job.

Meanwhile, she was relying on family support to pay her bills.

"I just really need a new job, I need to get more money and I can't keep going on just four hours a week," she said.

Official figures show the number of people underemployed, like Holly, has dropped, along with the unemployment rate - which fell to 3.9 percent in the September quarter from 4.4 percent in the previous quarter.

However, that underemployment figure doesn't count people who are working full-time, in this case more than 30 hours a week, but need more work to pay their bills.

Unite Union national secretary Gerard Hehir said he knew people who worked 30 hours a week and needed more, but struggled to get guaranteed hours because they were temporary or casual workers.

"There's a whole group of workers working 30 hours a week who would like 40 hours a week, they would like to work what was traditionally a full-time job and they're not counted in the underemployed."

Mr Hehir said 30 hours of work a week should not be considered full-time employment, and the number of people under-employed was bigger than the numbers showed.

"Clearly workers who are working 30 hours cannot make ends meet. That's a big problem for a start, somehow 30 hours particularly for low wage workers is seen as full-time employment and you're okay, you don't have to worry about finding better work or higher wages, and that's not true."

Wellington employment lawyer Barbara Buckett said the gig economy was part of the employment landscape, and the changing nature of work needed to be reflected in statistics.

"It's a permanent feature and it is going to grow. There's more digital disruption and that's affecting our traditional employment base which I think needs to be reflected in the stats that have been gathered and the profile that we're tying to get to the bottom of in terms of unemployment."

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