FORGET the traditional gap between blue and white-collared workers.
Inequality in the workforce now lies between ''elite'' full-time workers and ''peripheral'' casual workers, a new report has found.
The report, Perspectives, by leading New Zealand legal policy maker Margaret Wilson, shows a gap - in pay, conditions, certainty of work and legal rights - between full-time workers and casual workers in Australia and New Zealand. The report calls for workers' rights to be better protected by statutory minimum standards including wages and conditions of employment.
Young people, women and older workers are most likely to engage in casual work, said Professor Wilson, from the University of Waikato in Hamilton.
Casual work, which is often insecure and involves low pay, also lacks access to benefits such as sick leave and holiday leave.
But poorly paid work is no longer confined to the traditional ''blue'' or ''white'' collar industries, Professor Wilson said.
''The old categories and the way we look at work has changed, we need to look at the nature of the work regardless of where it is and concentrate on that work having better conditions,'' she said.
There has been a distinct movement away from the traditional blue-collar manufacturing industries to service jobs such as hospitality, health and caring sectors, which all have higher levels of precarious work, Professor Wilson said.
Flexibility in the workforce has meant an ''elite'' workforce was now supported by casualised, flexible workers, she said.
On Thursday, monthly labour force figures from the Bureau of Statistics showed a movement away from full-time work.
People engaged in full-time employment decreased by 0.1 per cent, while the number of people in part-time employment rose by 0.6 per cent.
It also showed the number of people looking for full-time work was down by 1.2 per cent, compared with the number of people looking for part-time work, which rose by 3.9 per cent.
While part-time employment may not necessarily fall under the ''precarious'' working conditions, it shows a trend towards a more flexible workforce in Australia, Professor Wilson said.
But the director of workplace policy at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Daniel Mammone, said it was important to have both permanent and non-permanent work available. ''We don't believe that a rights-based approach is necessary,'' he said.
The Australian Industry Group disagreed casualisation was an issue.
"It is just wrong to say that casualisation is increasing or indeed that it is a problem in the Australian workforce,'' chief executive Innes Wilcox said.
The Unions NSW secretary, Mark Lennon, said that while flexibility was now a reality in the Australian workforce, it was also a question of balance.