More women working in 'precarious' jobs

Photo of candidates waiting for a job interview
Photo credit: Getty Images

Sarah Robson for RNZ

More women are working in precarious jobs, leaving them more vulnerable to a sudden loss of income.

Official figures show that in the March quarter, the number of women in casual, fixed-term or temporary roles was up 4.4 percent on a year earlier.

There was a 2.2 percent drop in women in permanent roles.

For men, there was a 4.4 percent drop in those in less secure jobs, and only a slight 0.2 percent decrease in those in permanent work.

Tineke Joustra, a population biologist and a mother of three, relies on picking up contract work, sometimes 20 to 30 hours a week.

But she'd like something more secure - a permanent part-time job.

"I'd prefer that over doing the contracting work, purely because you just don't know how much money's coming in every week and when it's going to stop, because at any stage they can actually turn around and say we've got no more work for you."

But permanent jobs that she can fit around her kids are hard to come by.

"There's probably quite a few mums that feel the same way. We all want to work and we've got the skills to work. It just means that we have to find employers that are keen to actually take us on."

While unemployment hasn't been anywhere near as bad as was feared in the early stages of the pandemic, women have been hit hard.

Of the 11,000 people who lost their jobs in the June 2020 quarter, 90 percent of them were women.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Melissa Ansell-Bridges said the industries worst affected by the pandemic are those which women are over-represented in, such as tourism, retail, accommodation and hospitality.

While women are now getting back into work - it's in those more precarious casual, fixed term or temporary jobs.

Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen said it hints at a bit of uncertainty among employers.

"There is this concern that although businesses are all right at the moment they're not as confident about the future," he said.

"And so that revival in the job activity may well not stick around for that much into the future."

Ansell-Bridges suspects in the midst of the pandemic, women are taking whatever jobs they can find.

"You're more likely to take on the more casualised and precarious types of jobs and there's a real risk with that."

Those risks could include fewer opportunities for training and career development, and less power to bargain for better rights and conditions at work.

Olsen said it could also hurt women's earnings.

"People being in some more precarious work, fixed term roles, temporary roles, casual roles, does diminish how much people might be able to advance into their careers and increase their earning potential, so concerns about the future earning outcomes for women across the employment market."

RecruitMum is an employment agency specialising in getting mothers into part-time work.

Director Clare Russell said while flexible contract work suits many women, a lot want the security of something more permanent.

"They are having to manage childcare hours as well as work, so temp and casual and contract work that's less stable doesn't really lean into stable childcare hours," she said.

"Certainly finding permanence in work and stability, I think is always the number one priority."

But Russell said there are not enough permanent part-time jobs out there to meet the demand she's seeing.

"Certainly wanting to see more organisations offer more grunty part-time roles, so management roles, even a general manager as a part-time role, and I've seen a couple of job listings in that space - it can be done."

Russell said the Covid-19 lockdowns have shown the potential for working from home - and employers need to start thinking differently about how they can tailor roles to different people.

RNZ