Hours of work ravaged by virus

COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to hours worked in Western Australia. Hours worked have plunged by an extraordinary 20 million hours in April, confirming the devastating impact of COVID-19 on business activity and household incomes. This has in turn driven the highest underemployment rate ever recorded, 14.6 per cent, while 57,600 Western Australians abandoned the search for work altogether.

These factors cushioned WA’s headline unemployment rate, which rose to 6 per cent instead of the widely-feared 10 per cent.

The federal JobKeeper package has substantially shielded WA jobs, enabling large numbers of workers stood down or working fewer hours, to remain tethered to their employers and off formal unemployment tallies. But it highlights the delicate balance in which many jobs are held.

Nationally, the spike in unemployment has erased five years’ worth of progress since April 2015, during which the national seasonally adjusted unemployment fell from 6.3 per cent to below 5 per cent.

More WA women and young people lost their jobs in April, reflecting their higher participation in vulnerable sectors like accommodation, retail, arts and recreation and food and dining. The results draw a complex picture, under which the WA economy could improve, even while employment results worsen.

With the WA jobs market savaged by 20 million lost hours, it only heightens the need for bold economic reform to kick off our recovery. To build confidence and incomes once again, the WA economy needs transformational tax reform and measures to strengthen skills and infrastructure, improve regulation and keep costs low.

Aaron Morey

CCIWA Chief Economist

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