Australia’s casual workers have been the “shock troops” of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet have been eight times more likely to lose their job than their permanent counterparts.
That’s according to new research from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future work, which also found that casual and part-time jobs suffered more than 70 per cent of job losses since May, as lockdowns across the country began.
“Workers in insecure jobs have been the shock troops of the pandemic,” said Centre for Future Work economist and report author Jim Stanford.
“They suffered by far the deepest casualties during the first round of layoffs. Then they were sent back into battle, as the economy temporarily recovered. But now their livelihoods are being shot down again, in mass numbers.”
As women hold over 53 per cent of casual jobs, they’ve also faced a disproportionate impact, the research found.
Casual workers are also facing lower pay, making 26 per cent less an hour and 52 per cent less a week on average than permanent workers, the report found. That’s due to both lower ages and fewer hours of work, Stanford noted.
And if casual workers had received the same pay as permanent staff, Australia’s overall wage incomes would have increased 3.5 per cent or $30 billion per year.
“It is bad enough that workers in these jobs do not receive basic entitlements like paid sick leave or severance protections. But even when they are working, they are paid far less than other workers,” Stanford said.
“The long-term and multi-faceted expansion of insecure work, in all its forms, is ripping apart economic and social stability in Australia.”
Stanford noted that insecure work is also becoming increasingly embedded in the labour force, with part-time workers making up 60 per cent of all new jobs created between May 2020 and May 2021.
This also poses challenges for controlling the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.
As casual employees are genuinely not entitled to paid sick leave, workers are more likely to turn up to work while feeling unwell, thus spreading illness.
“If workers take unpaid sick leave... they experience a painful and unjust financial penalty,” Stanford said.
“The intolerable consequences of workers in insecure jobs who kept working despite exposure to COVID-19 (in infamous cases including hotel security, removalists, aged care, restaurants, and hospitals) have reminded Australians that providing all workers with the financial capacity to stay home when they need to is a matter of utmost priority.”
The Fair Work Act was recently amended to allow casuals to convert to permanency, although Stanford said the ability for workers to actually do this was limited. The University of Sydney assessed 4,173 casual staff members' eligibility for conversion, and deemed only 69 eligible.
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