Lower paid bore COVID-19 brunt but jobs again on rise

Labourers work at a housing estate at Deer Park in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne. Picture: David Crosling
Labourers work at a housing estate at Deer Park in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne. Picture: David Crosling

Small business people and workers in lower paid occupations, including labourers and retail assistants, bore the brunt of the job slump this year but jobs are returning rapidly, according to a detailed ABS labour market survey.

The latest quarterly survey of the labour market found the total number of jobs in the economy had increased almost 250,000 over the three months to the end of November, as restrictions in Victoria eased, even if total employment remained 1.1 per cent lower than in February.

“It wasn’t all good news — astonishingly, 22,700 jobs were lost in the healthcare and social assistance industry, despite the coronavirus health crisis,” said Ryan Felsman, a senior economist at Commsec.

Jobs increased in 13 of the 19 industries tracked by the Australian Bureau of Statistics; the largest increases were in professional, scientific and technical services (up 80,200), followed by administration and support services (up 53,300) and accommodation and food services (up 45,800).

Hours worked by small business people (“owner managers”) and casual workers endured the sharpest falls, down more than 15 per cent and 25 per cent respectively between February and May; by November, their total hours worked were within a few percentage points of pre-­pandemic levels.

Hours worked by profession graph
Hours worked by profession graph

Classifying workers by type of occupation, professionals and administrative workers were the only two among eight broad job groups that expanded between February, before coronavirus restrictions were imposed, and Nov­ember.

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Sales workers and ­labourers were overall working at least 6 per cent fewer hours than in February. “And the hours of community and personal service workers, which have increased considerably following the near 30 per cent drop in May, are still 8 per cent lower than February,” the ABS said on ­Wednesday.

Mr Felsman said the number of job advertisements had increased for the seventh month in a row, according to Commsec’s Internet Vacancy Index. “Job ads are 11.2 per cent (or 17,100 advertisements) above the level recorded in November 2019,” he said.