What are part-time and on-call work?

The ILO Part-Time Work Convention, 1994 (No. 175) defines the term “part-time worker” as an employed person whose normal hours of work are fewer than those of comparable full-time workers.

Legal and statistical definitions of part-time work often differ. In many countries, the legal definition is similar to that used in Convention No. 175.  Others have set a maximum number of hours for part-time work (such as 25 hours per week or two-thirds of normal full-time hours). For comparative statistical purposes, however, part-time work is usually considered as working fewer than 35 hours, or 30 hours, per week.

Part-time work is one of the traditional forms of non-standard employment. However, over the past decades, not only has it grown in importance, but it has also witnessed a diversification of its forms, which include: “substantial part-time” (21–34 hours per week); “short part time” (20 hours or less); and “marginal” part-time (fewer than 15 hours per week). In some instances, working arrangements may involve very short hours or no predictable fixed hours, and the employer has no obligation to provide a set number of hours of work. These arrangements, known as “on-call work”, come under different contractual forms depending on the country and include so-called “zero-hours contracts”.

Part-time employment is the most widespread type of non-standard employment found among women. While women make up less than 40 per cent of total employment, their share of all those working part-time is 57 per cent. Gender differences with respect to part-time work are especially high in the Netherlands, Nordic European countries, India, Japan, Niger, and Switzerland. Marginal part-time work features particularly sizeable gender differences in the majority of countries. The leaders in marginal part-time work among women are Brazil, Germany, and India.

Part-time work can help workers, especially those with children or other care responsibilities, to enter or remain in the labour market. It can also provide opportunities for workers who want to combine work with education or professional training. However, whether it can indeed be beneficial will depend on whether working part-time is a voluntary choice, on the quality of the part-time job including equal treatment with full-time workers, on how it is viewed by society, on whether higher-paid and higher-skilled jobs are available on a part-time basis, and on the possibility of switching between part-time and full-time jobs.

“On-call work” including “zero-hours contracts” can pose challenges of unpredictable and insufficient hours of work and reduced earnings --  all the more so if workers do not benefit from equal treatment with full-time workers in terms of remuneration. On-call workers may also face difficulties in balancing work with personal life due to the potentially high variability of work schedules.

In this light, it is important to ensure equality of treatment of workers in part-time jobs, facilitate transitions between part-time and full-time jobs, provide workers with a minimum number of guaranteed hours, and give them a say in their work schedules, including limiting the variability of their working hours.