Part time workers set the trend: Paul Gosling on the changing employee patterns in the EC

Click to follow
ONE MILLION more workers are employed within the European Community today than were 10 years ago - yet no more hours are worked.

This is primarily due to the enormous growth in part-time employment. Other flexible working arrangements, such as temporary contracts, annual hours contracts and sub-contracting, are also on the increase, to the extent that most people in Britain today no longer have a traditional nine-to- five job.

With about 20 per cent of the workforce - and 40 per cent of working women - in part-time employment, Britain has one of the highest proportions of part- time workers in the EC, according to a report just published by the Institute of Personnel Management. Only the Netherlands has significantly more, at 30 per cent of the labour force.

Manufacturing has seen the smallest increase in part-time work. But there has been much stronger growth in part-time contracts in the public sector, where reductions in hours have been seen as preferable to making redundancies. Moreover, employers see part-time employees as providing more labour flexibility - possibly they regard it as more productive and cheaper.

While part-time contracts are on the increase, the British addiction to paid and unpaid overtime shows no sign of abating.

One in six of the UK workforce usually works more than 48 hours, the EC's maximum working week for employees under the directive agreed last week despite British government protests.

Britain and Ireland are the only EC member countries in which more than 5 per cent of employees work more than 48 hours a week.

The report suggests that this is a problem for the UK economy, since overtime is inefficient and costly. The conversion of overtime into wider employment might create as many as one and a half million full-time jobs, according to a recent estimate.

Lesley Mayne, a researcher at Cranfield School of Management, which conducted the study for the IPM, suggests that a significant change in training policy is required if a reduction in overtime is desired. She said: 'One of the big problems is the lack of skilled workers around. This means skilled staff are working more to make up for inequalities in the labour market.'

John Stevens, the IPM's director of professional policy, added that excessive overtime was an indictment of management. 'It reflects a lack of management control,' he said, adding that a better way of dealing with the problem might have been through annual hours contracts, which require employees to adapt their hours to the employers' needs.

There has been some growth in these, with research published last year by the Department of Employment suggesting that more than 6 per cent of employees have some form of annualised hours contracts.

There has also been growth in the use of temporary contracts, which can reduce costs, provide flexibility, reduce fringe benefits, act as a form of probation and make trade union organisation less likely.

Although the growth in sub- contracting is central to this increased flexibility, the researchers are surprised that the expansion has not been greater. Nevertheless, 30 per cent of British businesses have increased their use of sub-contracting. More than 40 per cent of western German firms have extended the use of sub- contracting.

But other predicted trends, such as the growth in homeworking and teleworking, have failed to materialise. Homeworking is still predominantly undertaken by women, particularly in the textile industry, and is higher in specific regions - usually deprived areas. It has not, as yet, proved popular with higher technology operations. This is largely, the researchers suggest, because managers are worried at the potential loss of control over employees, and are keen to maintain an office environment to ensure effective liaison and co-ordination.

(Photograph omitted)