Pandemic Exacerbated Inequality, Insecurity in Australia’s Labour Market

A year-end review of the dramatic changes in Australia’s labour market in 2020 has confirmed that the worst economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were felt by Australians in relatively low-paid, insecure jobs.

Key Findings:

  • Workers in casual jobs lost employment at a rate 8 times faster than those in permanent positions
  • Part-time workers suffered job losses 3 times worse than full-time workers
  • Young workers, women, and workers who do not work in offices also suffered disproportionate job losses during the initial shutdowns – and continue to experience much worse employment conditions
  • Worse yet, the report shows the rebound in employment that began in May has seen a historic surge in insecure jobs – which account for the vast majority of new jobs created since the economy began re-opening

“It is painfully ironic that the worst impacts of the pandemic were felt by those who could least afford to lose their work and income,” said Dr Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, and co-author of the report.

“Both on the way down, and on the way back up, this recession has reinforced the dominance of insecure work in Australia’s labour market.

“Precarious work strategies explain why the effects of the pandemic were so painfully unequal, and this new surge in insecure work makes Australians even more vulnerable to such shocks in the future.

“Covid-19 had a terrible impact on both the quantity and quality of work in 2020. Because Australia has been relatively successful in controlling the virus, the labour market could improve significantly in 2021, however, the rapid expansion of insecure work poses a major challenge to the stability and prosperity of Australian households,” Dr Stanford said.

Other findings of the report include:

  • Since May, over 400,000 casual jobs have been created (2200 per day, on average), accounting for over 60% of all new waged positions since the recovery started. That is the largest surge in casual employment in Australia’s history – contradicting business and government claims that uncertainty about casual employment rules are holding back hiring.
  • Workers over 35 years of age have regained all of the jobs lost in the pandemic, and then some. All remaining job losses are concentrated among workers under 35.
  • Office-based occupations (professionals, clerical workers, and most managers) have also regained pre-pandemic employment levels. But other occupations (especially community and personal services, sales workers, and labourers) continue to suffer major employment losses.
  • New labour laws proposed by the Commonwealth government would accelerate the surge in insecure work: liberalising the use of casual labour by employers, and allowing them to treat permanent part-time workers more like casuals.

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