Twice as many staff work overtime

The biggest increase in flexibility in the workforce has come through extended overtime rather than short-term contracts or part-time work, according to a new study. Contradicting the conventional wisdom that temporary and part-time jobs have become more important, it found that more than half of all employees now worked a variable number of hours per week.

The research by the Policy Studies Institute, commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment, shows that the proportion working paid and unpaid overtime has more than doubled since the mid-1980s.

Other types of use of flexible labour have also increased during the past decade, but far less dramatically, and the number of workers employed on short-term contracts remains very low. Only about 4 per cent of employers in both manufacturing and services make extensive use of patterns of work such as temporary contracts. The exception is the public sector, where it has become a fairly common practice.

The proportion of people in temporary jobs climbed from 4.3 per cent in 1984 to 6.5 per cent in 1994. The proportion working part-time rose from 20.4 per cent to 25.4 per cent. But the proportion working variable hours soared from 29.7 per cent to 52.5 per cent.

The report found that part-timers were more likely to be women, while men were more likely to work overtime.

Very few employers used more than one type of flexible employment pattern. Those that did tended to be those where labour costs formed a big proportion of total costs.

Economics column, page 26