Insecure Workers Have Been the ‘Shock Troops’ of the COVID-19 Pandemic: New Report

New research from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work confirms that workers in casual and insecure jobs have borne the lion’s share of job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic – both the first lockdowns in 2020, and the more recent Delta-wave of closures.

Key Findings:

  • Since May, workers in casual and part-time jobs have suffered over 70% of job losses from renewed lockdowns and workplace closures.
  • Casual workers have been 8 times more likely to lose work than permanent staff. Meanwhile, part-time workers have been 4.5 times more likely to lose work than full-timers.
  • The report documents the disproportionate concentration of insecure work among women, young workers, and in the retail and hospitality sectors. Women hold over 53% of all casual jobs, but only 48% of permanent roles.
  • Average wages are much lower in insecure jobs. Casual workers, on average, earn 26% less per hour and 52% less per week than permanent workers – contrary to the common assumption that casual workers receive higher wages to offset their lack of entitlements and job protections.
  • The research estimates that if casual workers received the same hourly wages as permanent staff, overall wage incomes in Australia would grow by $30 billion per year, or 3.5%. That would mark a welcome change from the past eight consecutive years of record-low wage growth.
  • The report also shows that less than half of working Australians now hold a permanent, full-time waged job with entitlements. The traditional norm of a ‘standard’ job has been eroded on all sides by part-time jobs, casual work, temporary and contractor jobs, precarious forms of self-employment, and (more recently) on-demand gig work.

“Workers in insecure jobs have been the shock troops of the pandemic,” said Dr Jim Stanford, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, and report author.

“They suffered by far the deepest casualties during the first round of layoffs. Then they were sent back into battle, as the economy temporarily recovered. But now their livelihoods are being shot down again, in mass numbers.

“It is bad enough that workers in these jobs do not receive basic entitlements like paid sick leave or severance protections. But even when they are working, they are paid far less than other workers.

“The long-term and multi-faceted expansion of insecure work, in all its forms, is ripping apart economic and social stability in Australia.”

“Recent changes in labour law, which confirm the right of employers to use casual labour in any position — even stable long-term roles — will lead to further expansion of insecure work once the pandemic is over. New pathways for workers to convert to permanent status have numerous limitations and exemptions, and will not significantly affect growing job insecurity.”

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