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Briefing paper

Shock troops of the pandemic: casual and insecure work in COVID and beyond

Economic depressions Job loss Casual employees Work insecurity Australia

The unprecedented economic fluctuations resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and double-dip recession have imposed enormous costs on the millions of Australians who work in non-standard, insecure jobs. They face particularly uncertain employment prospects, due to the lack of job security and stability in hours. Most are also denied basic employment protections and entitlements – most dangerously, amidst a pandemic, they do not get paid time off in event of illness or exposure to COVID-19.

New data confirms that workers in casual and other insecure jobs have borne a vastly disproportionate share of job losses during both waves of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Key findings:

  • Casual and part-time workers accounted for over half of all job losses in the first lockdowns in 2020, and an even larger share in the later wave in 2021.
  • Casual workers were 8 times more likely to lose work in the 2021 lockdowns than permanent staff. Part-time workers were 4.5 times more likely to lose work than full-timers.
  • The short-lived recovery in employment between May 2020 and May 2021 confirms that employers are determined to re-establish insecure work as a dominant practice once the pandemic ends. Casual jobs accounted for over half of all jobs created during that 12-month temporary recovery, and part-time jobs accounted for almost 60%.
  • Women experience higher rates of casual and insecure employment than men – and hence the overuse of casual employment exacerbates gender economic inequality.
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