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Forgotten Aussies carry brunt of Covid-19 work pain

Jessica Yun
·4-min read
(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

Amid the widespread job losses across Australia, some ethnic groups have actually experienced more of their work hours cut compared to the rest of the population, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Australia National University Centre of Social Research and Methods surveyed more than 3,000 adult Australians, including 334 with Asian ancestry, and found that Asian-Australians were more likely to experience increased levels of discrimination, with workplaces the second most common location.

“There is a strong potential for people from an Asian ethnicity background in a country like Australia to be held responsible for the spread of the virus around the world,” the report said.

“The drop in hours worked for Asian-Australians between February and April 2020 (5.0 hours) was more than twice the drop for the rest of the Australians population (2.4 hours).”

And this was against a backdrop of Asian-Australians working “significantly more hours than the rest of the Australian population” before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

In February this year, Asian-Australians were working on average 26 hours a week compared to 20.8 hours worked by the rest of the population. But between February and April, the decline in hours for Asian-Australians fell to 21 hours per week, compared to a drop to 18.4 for the rest of the population.

(Source: ANU)
(Source: ANU)

There are several possible reasons why Asian-Australians lost more work hours, the researchers said.

“Asian-Australians tended to be working in jobs that were more negatively impact by COVID-19, and that differences in age, sex or socioeconomic status put Asian-Australians at greater risk of losing hours of work.”

The hospitality and retail sectors, where there are higher proportions of Asian-Australians, were also hit harder by the pandemic.

“It is plausible that at least some of this difference is due to employers (potential or current) discriminating against Asian-Australians and treating them differently based on their ethnicity.”

Covid-19 worsens discrimination, mental health

More broadly, the ANU report analysed the impact of the pandemic on the experience and wellbeing of respondents, and found nearly 85 per cent of Asian-Australians experienced at least one form of discrimination as recently as October.

The most common form of discrimination was at shops or restaurants (80.6 per cent), with workplaces the second-most common location (66.4 per cent).

“It is clear that Asian-Australians report experiencing higher rates of discrimination than the rest of the Australian population. This does not, of course, mean that there are not other groups that also experience high rates of discrimination.”

After the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many took to social media to report personal anecdotes of racist attacks.

In June, University of South Australia Centre of Tourism and Leisure Management director Marianna Sigala told Yahoo Finance racism had become an economic issue.

“This coronavirus crisis has brought to the surface several socio-economic issues we didn’t want to look at,” she said.

“As citizens we have to reflect. We cannot afford to continue like this.”

Mental health has also worsened among Asian-Australians, who were much more likely to report higher levels of anxiety and worry about the safety of themselves and their friends and family compared to the rest of the population (80.7 per cent compared to 62.4 per cent).

In total, ANU collected data in three waves: August last year; April 2020 (the height of the first wave); and October 2020 (immediately after the second wave).

Asian-Australians had higher levels of worry and anxiety across all three survey waves, and it worsened particularly between August and October.

“Asian-Australians started off with higher levels of psychological distress prior to Covid-19, but experienced a much greater increase up until April 2020.”

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