Women suffered disproportionate job losses when the pandemic hit. Employment for women declined almost 8% between February and May – more than 2 percentage points worse than the corresponding drop for men. The COVID-19 shutdowns and resulting recession were felt most severely by women for several reasons: they were disproportionately employed in the service sectors hit hardest by shutdowns; they were concentrated in casual and part-time roles more easily cut by employers; and their already disproportionate share of unpaid caring responsibilities became even more pronounced. This forced many women to reduce their hours of work, or to give up paid work altogether.
The gendered nature of the pandemic’s effects on Australia’s labour market have clear implications for addressing pay inequality. Not only has the quantity of women’s paid work been reduced compared with men, but the quality of those jobs has been undermined during the post-COVID recovery. Women workers are 'snapping back' to a world of paid work that engages them on inferior terms compared with men (lesser hours, security and pay).
This briefing note presents data on the gendered composition of the employment recovery since May. It shows women’s jobs returned on a more part-time and casualised basis than for men, and that the influx of women’s lower-earning jobs widened the gender pay gap between May and November 2020. While women were more likely to lose these same jobs early in the COVID pandemic (and so the return of these jobs is predictable), these statistics demonstrate how the gender pay gap worsens with increases in part-time and casual jobs. Finally, the paper describes three major existing and proposed government policies that are likely to widen pay inequality in 2021.