The Centre for Future Work reports that Australia’s labour market experienced unprecedented volatility during 2020 due to COVID-19 and the resulting recession. In early 2020, employment declined faster and more deeply than in any previous economic downturn, as workplaces were closed. After May, employment rebounded strongly and the subsequent recovery replaced over 80% of the jobs lost in the initial downturn. But women suffered disproportionate job losses when the pandemic hit, and that gender gap has not been closed during the rebound. Women’s employment, unemployment, underemployment, and participation all remain significantly weaker than for men.
They report workers in insecure jobs lost work far more severely than those in standard, permanent positions. The rebound of employment has been dominated by insecure jobs. Casual jobs account for 60% of all waged jobs created and part-time work accounts for 75% of new jobs. Women are heavily concentrated in casual and part-time roles, which were more easily eliminated by employers as the pandemic struck.
The authors recommend that, in addition to supporting the recovery in overall economic conditions (including through continued income supports), government must also improve the quality and stability of new jobs to offset the terribly unequal impacts of the pandemic. They caution that the government is proposing major legal changes that will reinforce the growing dominance of insecure work through the industrial relations omnibus bill introduced in December which would liberalise casual work (allowing its use in any position deemed casual by the employer), and allow permanent part-time workers to be treated like casual workers (with costless adjustments in hours and schedules), accelerating the surge of insecure work.