ACTU survey of workers confirms fears of who is impacted by COVID-19 pandemic

People in insecure work and with lower incomes are more likely to face unemployment or being stood down without pay as a result of the pandemic, with women, young workers and those over 65 also over-represented, according to new research conducted for the ACTU.

The data shows that:

  • 37 per cent of workers who have lost their job due to the pandemic have been stood down without pay. The situation is worse for those aged 18-34 (43 per cent) or over 65 (42 per cent).
  • 24 per cent of affected workers are no longer getting shifts at their job, despite not formally being stood down. The situation is worse for women, and those in insecure work.
  • 27 per cent of women who have lost work say they are still technically employed but are not being given shifts at work, compared with 19 per cent of men.
  • 68 per cent of affected casual workers who had been in their current job for less than 12 months have lost shifts. These workers are also not currently eligible for JobKeeper payments.

“This virus has laid bare the longstanding problems in our industrial relations system. Women, young and older workers, as well as those in insecure work are falling through the cracks," says Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary. “The extremely high rates of insecure work, in which young people and women are over-represented, mean that we have large numbers of people in this country without secure employment and decent rights, and they are being hit incredibly hard by this crisis."

Health and safety concerns
Apart from the stress that the above will be causing workers, the poll highlighted other health and safety concerns. One in five workers say they do not have appropriate social distancing protocols in the workplace. 

The ACTU points out: As with public health measures, it is important that work health and safety (WHS) measures apply the highest, and most effective, set of controls to ensure workers’ exposure to the coronavirus is reduced to the lowest level possible. This ‘hierarchy of controls’ ensures that businesses apply a range of measures that are practical for their work with a particular focus on measures such as physical distancing.

The public health measures currently in force around Australia ensure that the public maintain appropriate physical distancing. The ACTU says that, however, this is not the case for many workplaces, where workers are expected to work in close proximity with each other. This is despite the fact that in many of these workplaces it is possible, and indeed practical, for better physical distancing to be applied. Our WHS laws need to ensure this is achievable for more workers.

The survey revealed:

  • Young workers and those on the lowest incomes are also the most likely to report that their workplaces have not implemented proper social distancing: 29 per cent of 18-35 year olds and 47 per cent of those earning less than $15,600;
  • 43 per cent of Australian workers who need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep them safe from COVID-19 in their workplace do not have it.
  • The biggest shortfalls in PPE are for workers on fixed-term contracts (63 per cent) and casuals.
  • 58 per cent of casual workers who have been in their job for less than 12 months do not have the PPE they need. Those with more than 12 months in their job fare only slightly better - 51 per cent of those workers are missing equipment.
  • Insecure workers are also more likely to not have proper cleaning protocols in their workplace - this is the case for 35 per cent of casuals in their job for less than a year and 33 per cent of gig economy workers.

Read more: Research shows insecure work, age, gender divides in impact of virus and Polling shows alarming gaps in social distancing, PPE and cleaning protocols in the workplace.  ACTU media releases   


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