Australian workers lost $47bn in wages during first eight months of Covid recession, study says | Australia news

Australian workers lost a total of $47bn in wages in the first eight months of the Covid-19 recession – the equivalent of $5,885 each when spread across the country.

A study by the Australian National University, released on Tuesday, found workers performed 692 hours of work between March and October, down from an expected 760 hours if they had continued at pre-pandemic levels.

Both men and women suffered cuts to hours and neither group has fully recovered, according to the longitudinal survey of more than 3,000 people.

Average hours worked for all females fell from 18.8 per week in February to 16.1 in April, before recovering to 18.2 hours in October.

For males, average hours worked declined from 25.0 per week in February to 21.5 in April then ticked up to 22.7 in October.

Study co-lead, Professor Nicholas Biddle, noted that men lost more hours than women, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of their labour load – hours were down 10.8% for men and 6.1% for women.

The number of hours lost by workers born overseas in a non-English speaking country (104) and those lost by older Australians (140.6) was “substantially larger and statistically significant” compared with other workers, the study found.

The Covid recession “appears to have impacted on the middle part of the education distribution”, with those who completed year 12 but who do not have a university degree hit hardest.

Biddle said: “On average, the total loss in production per employed Australian was worth $5,885 between February and October, or $2,379 per adult if we count non-employed workers.

“This gives a total estimated loss of production equal to around $47bn or 1.3bn hours due to the Covid recession.”

Despite the hefty price tag, the calculation suggests that total losses have been more than offset by jobkeeper wage subsidies, which had paid out $69bn in early October, and early superannuation withdrawals totalling $35bn on Monday.

In September, the Australian Bureau of Statistics declared Australia had suffered its second consecutive quarter of negative economic growth, marking the first recession in almost 30 years.

With restrictions on movement and trade and consumer caution, the household saving to income ratio rose to 19.8%, which is the highest rate since June 1974.

Despite $257bn of direct economic support and record low interest rates, the treasury secretary, Steven Kennedy, has warned that without continued stimulus the Covid-19 economic recovery could “falter”.

The ANU survey was conducted between 12 and 26 October, as Victoria began to ease its stage four lockdown.

It found workers in Victoria increased their hours from an average of 17.8 hours per week in August to 20.4 in October.

“By October 2020, there was no significant difference in average hours worked between Victoria and the rest of Australia,” it said, although the results varied significantly around the state.

While Melburnians worked an average 20.6 hours per week in October, Sydneysiders worked an average of 24 hours per week.

But Victorians outside Melbourne worked more hours on average (19.7 hours) than other Australians who lived outside of capital cities (17.9 hours).

As workers gained back lost hours, they also regained confidence they would keep their job. The estimated chance employed people put on losing their job loss fell from 25% in August to 22.8% in October.

The study found anxiety and worry about Covid-19 increased between August and October, up from 68% to 71% in Victoria and up from 61% to 63% Australia-wide.

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