The difference between permanent and full-time jobs

People often mix up the words "permanent" and "full time" when they are talking about jobs.

It's important to understand what they mean, so you can be clear about what a job requirement is.   To do this, you need to think about two questions:
  • How long will the job last for:
  • How many hours per week - on average - do I work for?

How long will the job last?

If you work every week (except for agreed holidays) and there is no expected end-date, then your job is permanent.   Your employment contract may say it is a "contract of infinite duration" (in Ireland) or something similar (in other countries).

If you have regular work but know that it won't last forever, then your job is temporary. Another word for this is fixed-term.  Often, but not always, you know the expected end-date when you first start. 

Some reasons why a job might be temporary:
  • You are covering for someone who is away, eg on maternity leave or a career-break
  • You are doing a project (eg building a road, moving a shop, setting up a display )   
  • If the government or a charity is funding your employer, then your employer may say that the job will only last for as long as they keep getting the funding.
  • The job is based on seasons of the year, eg picking fruit, milking cows, or serving tourists.

If you are not guaranteed any work each week and are rostered or called in when you are needed, then your job is casual.    Another word for this is that you have have a zero-hour contract.   In Ireland, this became illegal in March 2019, unless the work really is casual.  Reasons why a job might be casual:
  • You provide cover when the regular staff are out sick:  when they're healthy, there's no need for you.
  • It's for a one off event that, which is unlike the rest of the year.   Eg a hotel in Galway needs very many extra wait-staff, bar-tenders and kitchen porters for a summer race meeting each year, but doesn't need them for the rest of the year.
  • You are only needed when unexpected things happen:  eg retained firefighters only get paid when they're called out.

How many hours do I work each week?

If you work for a certain number of hours each week, usually 30 or more (but it's different in some countries) , then your job is described as full-time.   Most people who have a full-time job only have one job.   You don't need to work exactly the same hours each week, or the same number of hours each day - just 30 or more hours in on average, every week.

If you work for a smaller number of hours each week, eg 8 or 15  or 25, then your job is part-time.   The idea is that you have enough "work time" free each week that you can do something else, for example another job, or study.

If you work for a different number of hours each week, and your employment contract doesn't say that you will get at least any hours, then your job is casual.

Putting this together

This diagram shows how job length and job hours combine to describe different work patterns:

No type of job is intrinsically better - although depending on your life-stage, some job-types might suit you better at the moment.   Eg   a person looking for a mortgage often wants a permanent job, while a student might like a casual job which gives lots of time off.

Some complications!

Real-life is sometimes complicated  Some people job-share, and work every second week.   Some jobs have shifts that are organised in different ways , eg 4 days on / 4 days off.

In these cases, to work out full-time vs part-time, you need to look at the average over three months:   add up all the hours you work, and divide the total by 13 to find out your hours /week.

The ideas of full-time and permanent don't look at whether your work the same days and hours, or if these can change either on a pattern (eg days one week and nights the next) or overall  (your 40 hours are different every week.    A job which is like this is described as shift-work - but there is no one way of describing the types of shifts.

A different way of thinking about full time

Some people have another way of thinking about full-time:  They say that the are full-time if they only work for one employer, and part-time if they have more than one job -  no matter how many hours they work at each place, or overall.

This comes from the idea that a full-time job keeps you totally busy, while a part-time one gives you time for other things, ie it only keeps you busy part of the time.

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