Briefing paper

2020 year-end labour market review: insecure work and the COVID-19 pandemic

Economic depressions Labour market disruption Casual employees Labour market Part-time employment Australia
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2020 year-end labour market review 965.77 KB

Australia’s labour market experienced unprecedented volatility during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession. In the first part of the year, employment declined faster and more deeply than in any previous economic downturn, as workplaces were closed to control the spread of infection. Then, after May, employment rebounded strongly. The subsequent recovery has replaced over 80% of the jobs lost in the initial downturn. While considerable ground remains to be covered to complete the employment recovery, the turn-around in the quantity of work has been encouraging.

However, the pandemic also highlighted stark fissures in Australia’s labour market. The employment and income impacts of the pandemic were starkly unequal, across different groups of workers. This report highlights several ways in which the pandemic has increased inequality in Australia, and reinforced the dominance of insecure work in the overall labour market:

  • Workers in insecure jobs lost work far more severely than those in standard, permanent positions. Casual workers lost employment 8 times faster than those in permanent jobs. Part-time workers lost work 3 times faster than full-time. Insecure self-employed workers lost work 4 times faster than those in more stable small businesses.
  • The rebound of employment since May has been dominated by insecure jobs. Casual jobs account for 60% of all waged jobs created since May. Part-time work accounts for almost three-quarters of all new jobs.
  • Casual employment grew by over 400,000 positions between May and November – an average of 2200 new casual jobs per day. That is by far the biggest expansion of casual employment in Australia’s history.
  • Young people suffered much worse job losses in the initial months of the pandemic. And while workers over 35 have fully recovered pre-pandemic employment levels, younger workers are still experiencing major job losses.
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