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Survey of Working Life: December 2012 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  26 June 2013

Two changes were made on 12 July 2013 to the key facts and commentary sections of this release. See the correction for details.


The Survey of Working Life (SoWL) was run as supplement to the Household Labour Force Survey in the December 2012 quarter. It collected a wide range of information about people’s employment conditions, working arrangements, and quality of working life.

Topics included: 

  • employment relationship in main job (temporary, permanent, employer, self-employed)
  • length of time in main job
  • working times and hours
  • work at home
  • job flexibility
  • employer-funded study and training
  • work-related health and safety
  • annual leave entitlement
  • type of employment agreement (individual or collective)
  • union membership
  • satisfaction with main job and with work-life balance.

This release presents a selection of results from the survey.

Due to seasonality factors no direct comparisons with the March 2008 quarter SoWL data are made in this release.

Employment relationship

New Zealand’s workforce of 2,205,100 can be broken down into different employment relationships, or categories. Employees made up the largest proportion of New Zealand’s workforce, with 83.6 percent of respondents in that category. Self-employed people made up 9.9 percent of the workforce and 5.8 percent were employers.


Chart, Employed structure 2 


Graph, Employment relationship, by sex, December 2012 quarter.

Men dominated the employer and self-employed categories, while women made up the larger proportion of temporary employees.

New Zealand’s workforce – an overview

Working hours

Standard working hours are 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday. Those working at a standard time were:

  • 6 of 10 (63.0 percent) employed people 
  • two-thirds (66.1 percent) of employees
  • less than half of self-employed people (48.9 percent) and employers (44.4 percent).

One-quarter of all employed people (25.6 percent) usually worked long hours (45+ a week). Men (36.6 percent) were much more likely than women (13.2 percent) to work long hours.

Regarding their main job, around one-third (35.5 percent) of permanent employees usually worked a 40-hour week, which was more than double the proportions for employers (15.6 percent) and self-employed people (17.2 percent). Temporary workers were more likely to work less than 20 hours per week. Employers and self-employed people were more likely than employees to usually work 50+ hours a week.

Graph, Usual hours worked, by employment relationship and age group, December 2012 quarter.

Job tenure

People who worked for themselves had the longest job tenures:

  • 8 of 10 (78.4 percent) employers had been in their main job five years or more
  • 6 of 10 (61.6 percent) self-employed people had been in their main job five years or more
  • 4 of 10 (43.9 percent) employees had been in their main job five years or more
  • but 2 of every 10 (19.8 percent) employees had been in their job less than a year.

Work stress

Work stress was a problem for people who had ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt stressed at work in the last 12 months. This was:

  • 1 in 5 (18.2 percent) of all employed people
  • 3 of 10 (27.7 percent) employers
  • 2 of 10  (18.0 percent) employees
  • just 14.5 percent of self-employed people.

Just over 1 of 10 (11.3 percent) employees had experienced discrimination, harassment, or bullying at work in the previous 12 months. This was double the proportion for employers (4.1 percent) and the self-employed (5.8 percent).

Job satisfaction

Nearly 9 of 10 (85.4 percent) employed people were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ in their main job. Only 1 of 20 (4.7 percent) were either ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’.

Levels were lower for work-life balance satisfaction: 

  • 8 of 10 (77.6 percent) employed people were either satisfied or very satisfied
  • 1 of 10 (8.4 percent) were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their work-life balance.

Characteristics of employees

Ninety percent of New Zealand’s 1,843,700 employees were in permanent jobs, with 10 percent being temporary workers. Temporary employees can be broken down into four categories: casual workers, fixed-term workers, temporary agency workers, and seasonal workers.

Chart, Employee structure


Employment type

The temporary employee group (192,200 people) was made up of: 

  • 47.6 percent who were casual workers
  • 29.4 percent of fixed-term workers
  • 13.6 percent of seasonal workers
  • 7.6 percent of temporary agency workers.

SoWL found some notable differences between permanent and temporary employees, or between different types of temporary workers.

  • Temporary workers were more likely to be female and to be younger than permanent workers.
  • Women were just under half of all employees in permanent jobs, but 6 in 10 of those in temporary jobs.
  • Women were the majority of fixed-term and casual workers, while men were the majority of seasonal and temporary agency workers.


All types of temporary workers had a younger profile than permanent employees. For temporary workers aged under 35 years:

  • 6 of 10 were casual (60.4 percent) or temporary agency workers (61.5 percent) 
  • around half were fixed-term (49.7 percent) and seasonal workers (50.0 percent).

Fewer than 4 of 10 people aged under 35 years were permanent employees (35.9 percent).


Comparisons by ethnicity showed that temporary workers were:

  • 13.0 percent of Māori workers
  • 10.7 percent of Pacific workers
  • 8.9 percent of Asian workers
  • 8.2 percent of European workers.


Permanent workers had higher earnings than temporary employees. Their median gross weekly earnings were $901, compared with $487 for temporary workers.

Median gross hourly earnings were also higher for permanent employees than temporary workers ($22.88 and $17.00, respectively).

Job trials

Those who started their main job on a 90-day trial were:

  • 1 of 5 (19.5 percent) of all employees
  • just over one-third (35.9 percent) of employees who had started their main job in the previous 12 months.

Union membership, employment agreements, and safety at work

Union membership

Just over one-quarter (27.2 percent) of all employees belonged to a union. Union membership was higher for permanent than temporary workers (27.8 percent and 22 .4 percent). Casual workers had the lowest membership (14.8 percent).

Employment agreements

Individual agreements were more common for employees than collective agreements, with:

  • 6 of 10 employees (59.7 percent) being covered by individual agreements
  • just over 2 in 10 (23.9 percent) being on collective agreements.

The remainder were either unaware of an agreement or did not know what type they were on.

People in permanent jobs were more likely than temporary workers to have employment agreements, with:

  • more than 8 of 10 (85.4 percent) permanent employees being on either individual or collective agreements
  • 7 of 10 (69.1 percent) temporary employees being on an agreement.

Among temporary employees, fixed-term and agency workers were the most likely to have employment agreements and casual workers the least likely.

Nearly all (94.7 percent) employees on either an individual or collective agreement had a written agreement.

Safety at work

Most employees (86.7 percent) thought their employer managed health and safety risks either ‘well’ or ‘very well’. The proportions were similar for permanent (86.9 percent) and temporary workers (84.9 percent).

The majority (84.3 percent) agreed they had reasonable opportunities to take part in improving workplace health and safety. Permanent workers (85.7 percent) were more likely to say they felt they could contribute than temporary employees (72.4 percent).

Where our employees work


Temporary employees were most likely to be employed in:

  • education and training (17.2 percent)
  • retail trade, and accommodation and food services (16.7 percent)
  • manufacturing and utility services (14.3 percent).

Permanent employees were much less likely to be employed in education and training (9.5 percent) but much more likely to work in healthcare and social assistance (12.6 percent).

Some industries used temporary labour more than others – particularly the primary sector. SoWL showed:

  • 1 of 5 employees (20.6 percent) in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining were temporary workers
  • just under 1 of 5 employees (17.5 percent) in education and training were temporary.


Professional occupations were the most common for both temporary (24.1 percent) and permanent workers (24.7 percent). Another one-quarter of temporary workers (23.4 percent) were employed as labourers – much higher than the 1 of 10 permanent workers (8.3 percent) employed in labouring jobs.

Temporary workers were much less likely than permanent workers to work as managers, or as technicians and trades workers.

Graph, Type of employee, by occupation, December 2012 quarter.

Flexibility at work


SoWL asked about job flexibility and the amount of notice given of a work schedule.

Around half (48.0 percent) of employed people had flexible hours (starting and finishing work at different times each day if wanted). The proportions were similar across types of employees – around 4 of 10. Employers (77.8 percent) and self-employed people (81.5 percent) were more likely to have flexible hours than employees.

Employees usually working 35+ hours a week were asked if their employer would let them reduce to 30 hours if they wanted. One-third said they would or probably would be able to, although this was more common for women than men. There was little difference between permanent and temporary workers, although casual workers were the most likely to be able to reduce their hours (47.0 percent).


Most employees, both male and female, thought their employer would let them take a few days unpaid leave if they needed to. This was around 9 of 10 permanent employees (89.6 percent) and 8 of 10 temporary employees (82.4 percent).


Of employees who worked shifts that changed daily or weekly, casual workers were the most likely to say their hours could change weekly to suit their employer’s need. This was 8 of 10 (80.9 percent) casual workers, compared with around one-third (34.2 percent) of fixed-term and temporary agency workers.

For people with changing work patterns, about one-third of permanent employees (34.6 percent) and a slightly smaller proportion of temporary employees (28.2 percent) said they always knew what days and times they would be working. Temporary workers tended to have less notice – around 3 of 10 (33.0 percent) knew less than a week in advance, compared with 1 of 10 (8.3 percent) permanent employees.

Job security

Permanent workers were asked about the chance of losing their job for a reason beyond their control in the next 12 months. Perceptions of job security were high:

  • 8 of 10 (79.3 percent) thought they had a 'low chance', or 'almost no chance' of job loss
  • 1 of 25 (4.1 percent) thought they had an 'almost certain', or 'high chance' of losing their job.

Graph, Perception of job loss in next 12 months, permanent employees only, December 2012 quarter.

Motivations for temporary work

People in temporary jobs have different motivations for taking that type of employment. Some have difficulty in finding permanent jobs while others prefer temporary work. SoWL data showed that preference for temporary work was stronger among casual and seasonal workers than other types of temporary workers.


The most common reasons people gave for doing temporary work were: 

  • general employment or industry conditions, suggesting a lack of opportunities for permanent employment (almost half cited this reason)
  • one-quarter mentioned education, health, or financial reasons
  • family or lifestyle reasons.

Employment and industry conditions were the most-common reason cited by all types of temporary workers, but especially temporary agency and fixed-term workers. Casual workers were the least likely to mention this reason, and the most likely to give either education, health, or financial reasons; or family or lifestyle reasons.

Preference for permanent work

Most temporary workers would prefer an ongoing or permanent job in the next 12 months.

  • Temporary agency workers preferred ongoing work (70.3 percent).
  • Fixed-term workers also preferred ongoing jobs (62.7 percent).
  • Around half of casual workers wanted ongoing work (48.8 percent).
  • Fewer than 4 of 10 seasonal workers said they would prefer ongoing or permanent jobs (37.0 percent).

Graph, Preference for employment relationship, temporary employees only, December 2012 quarter.

For more detailed data, see the Excel tables in the 'Downloads' box.

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