AUSTRALIANS are working at an average of 32 hours a week, the lowest in over 30 years, as employers turn to part-time jobs, flexible working hours and casualisation in a softening economy.
Detailed labour force data released by the Bureau of Statistics this week shows a fall in the average number of actual hours worked, while the proportion of employees who work full-time has also fallen since the 1980s.
"We know that over the last 12 to 18 months, conditions have been very tough on the economy and activity has been sluggish, especially for the retail sector," a Commonwealth Securities economist, Savanth Sebastian, said.
"As a result, while businesses are planning for a future turnaround and holding on to key staff, they are trying to maintain a lower cost base and that means cutting hours back, even for some of those full-time workers."
Stephen Bali, of the Australian Workers' Union Greater NSW branch, said some members of his union had found themselves under pressure to work additional hours without pay, while others had been placed on flexible work contracts.
"Flexibility is usually one way - it's what the employer needs and what the employer wants," Mr Bali said.
"It's from the employer's point of view and just they want to turn on and off workers. But workers are humans and not machines."
Ben Perry, who runs an events and branding business, said he had to resign from his previous job so he could reduce the number of hours he worked to spend more time with his children.
"For one year, I tried to cut back down to four days a week [in my previous job], but what I found is that you keep getting brought back to work," Mr Perry said.
"I kept getting frustrated that I was getting paid four days a week when in my mind I wasn't shutting down on the five days."
A shifting workforce has also seen a record number of older people in the job market.
While the participation rate - the percentage of people either in work or looking for work - for the workforce was at five-year lows just above 65 per cent by the end of last year, a record number of people aged above 65 were entering the job market, the Bureau of Statistics data showed.