Pandemic destroying plans of older workers

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has released research that shows older people and those without qualifications beyond high school are most at risk of long-term unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the analysis showed that about 40 per cent of those people who lose their jobs are at risk of staying unemployed.

“So, we want to make sure that as part of our recovery we really target those high-risk people. People who are over 55, people with low skills, and make sure that our skills system helps people get those new skills so they can get back into work.”

Before the government introduced its stimulus packages, BCA figures suggested 2.3 million full-time workers would lose their jobs, representing about 20 per cent of the workforce.

The new research shows that, of those who would have lost their jobs, 38.9 per cent were aged over 50, while 35.8 per cent were aged between 30 and 49. Only 25.3 per cent were in the 15 to 29-year-old age bracket.

More than 44 per cent of those forecast to lose their jobs would have had no qualifications beyond high school.

The Australian Council of Social Service’s Faces of Unemployment 2020 report, prepared just before the onset of COVID-19, concluded: “More people who are unemployed are middle to mature-aged (41 per cent of recipients aged 25-44 and 48 per cent over 45) than most people think”.

“The labour market has changed, so that jobs that were previously available to people with similar characteristics to today’s recipients of unemployment payments (especially those with lower qualifications) are harder to get, and harder to keep,” the report stated.

In late 2019, there were eight people unemployed or underemployed (seeking more paid working hours) for every job vacancy.

“For entry-level jobs, competition is tougher, with around a third more unemployed or underemployed applicants for every job.

“Entry-level jobs are increasingly part-time or casual jobs. While many people prefer shorter or flexible working hours, this makes it harder for people to transition from unemployment payments as they either have insufficient paid hours or are at risk of losing their casual job. Australia has the second-highest share of casual jobs in the OECD (25 per cent) and third-highest share of part-time jobs.”

The ACOSS report called for reform of employment services; commitment from employers to do the best for current and prospective employees, and a higher unemployment payment.

The BCA believes the simplification of retraining is vital to avoid long-term unemployment numbers rising.

“On skills and education, our priority is a system that enables people to rapidly upskill as the world of work changes … we need to urgently simplify the system so people can study in modules or micro-credentials when, and how, they need …”

The Grattan Institute’s report, Shutdown: Estimating the COVID-19 Employment Shock, states that about 40 per cent of workers on the lowest incomes are likely to lose their job during the crisis.

“This group includes workers who make less than $150 per week in personal income. By contrast, people earning more than $3000 per week have less than half the risk of losing work. We find that the lower a person’s income, the more likely it is that their job is at risk as a result of COVID-19 and the public health response to the virus.

“This is because people who work in occupations where they are close to others are more likely to become unemployed.

“The most heavily affected industries tend to have lower wages than industries like professional services, where fewer jobs require proximity to other people and more can be done from home. People on lower incomes are less likely to have enough money in the bank to see them through a period of unemployment. This means that financial support from government will be essential to see these workers through the pandemic …

“While many higher-income Australians will have substantial savings … about 40 per cent of the highest fifth of income earners have less than four weeks’ income in the bank. Most people’s financial commitments – especially rent and mortgage repayments – match what they earn.”

Ms Westacott is advocating industrial reforms, taxation changes and the simplification of the “complex” awards structure to aid Australia’s COVID-19 recovery. But she also wants to continue the cooperation that has marked Australia’s early response to the crisis.

“Let’s not surrender the cooperation and shared interests we have established in managing this crisis and remember that secure work comes from secure and successful businesses working with their employees.

“Unemployed people need a system that assists them to rebuild their confidence, reskill and retrain, so they can reconnect with the workplace and experience the dignity of work.”

Have you had trouble finding work? What do you think is most important to create jobs for older workers?

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