New research, released for International Women’s Day (8 March 2021), shows Australia’s recovery from the pandemic recession has widened the gender pay gap, as women’s jobs returned on a more part-time and casualised basis than for men.
The report, by the Centre for Future Work, warns that Australia’s gender pay gap could deteriorate even further in the wake of policies proposed by the Government for 2021: including the further expansion of casual work and reduced pay for part-time workers, tabled in the omnibus industrial relations bill; public sector pay caps for both federal and state employees; and a high-cost, inaccessible childcare system.
- Women suffered disproportionate job losses when the COVID pandemic hit, and as the economy recovers are returning to jobs that are relatively more insecure.
- Employment for women declined almost 8% between February and May 2020—over 2 percentage points worse than for men.
- Women’s employment is still 0.9% lower than in January last year (around 53,000 less jobs), while male employment went up over that same period (by an additional 7,000 jobs).
- Job-creation since May (the worst month of the COVID recession) has been heavily concentrated in casual and part-time jobs. From May through November, casual jobs made up over 60% of new jobs –and women filled 62% of those casual roles.
- The disproportionate concentration of women in newly-created casual and part-time jobs is largely responsible for a significant widening of the gender pay gap after May.
- Measuring the gender pay gap using total average earnings data (including both full-time and part-time workers, and bonuses and overtime as well as ordinary time wages) indicates that the gender pay gap is 31% across all jobs. That is a more dire, but more accurate, measure of the pay gap than other measures which include only full-time jobs.
- Three major existing and proposed government policies could further widen pay inequality in 2021:
- The further expansion of casual work and reduced pay for part-time workers, tabled in the omnibus industrial relations bill.
- Public sector pay caps for both federal and state employees.
- A high-cost, inaccessible childcare system.
“The gendered nature of the pandemic recession on Australia’s labour market has markedly worsened pay inequality,” said Alison Pennington, senior economist at the Centre for Future Work.
“Women lost jobs at a greater rate than men when the pandemic hit, and as the economy has recovered, are returning to fewer jobs offered on a more casualised basis. The gendered employment recovery is disproportionately leaving women with less hours, security and pay than men—a clear example of why a simple post-COVID “snap back” was never adequate for women.
“Women have been bearing the brunt of the COVID recession while governments have targeted stimulus spending in bloke-heavy industries, neglecting investment in industries that support women’s employment, including healthcare, education and social services. To stop further deterioration in pay inequality, targeted efforts to lift women’s work and earning opportunities is critical.
“Focused investment in women’s job creation, free childcare, and wage-boosting industrial relations policies are all within reach of governments at both federal and state levels.”