Australia’s large casual workforce masking real unemployment rate
Economists are warning an increase of casual and part-time work means Australia’s unemployment rate is higher than we think.
The unemployment rate is currently 5.5 per cent, but official figures show another 7 per cent of workers in casual or part-time roles are willing and able to work more hours.
It is estimated that 35 per cent of Australia’s workforce is now employed on a casual or contract basis.
AMP Capital economist Shane Oliver says that figure is too high.
“To have this situation where you are locked into part-time work for a long period can be debilitating,” he said
Unions have recently aired a television commercial outlining their concerns.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney says the trend is costing workers’ entitlements.
“You lose sick leave and you lose annual leave,” Ms Kearney said. “You lose carers leave – you also lose things like superannuation and it becomes difficult to get a loan.”
Philippa Barr is among those looking for more work.
She has been searching for a full-time job since the start of the year, but all she can find are three casual positions.
Ms Barr says the financial impact is high.
“It’s meant that I’m in a very precarious situation at the moment,” Ms Barr said.
“I’m not even renting a house, I’m house-sitting because I can’t afford to commit to paying rent from week to week.”
Employment uncertainty is a growing issue. During the global financial crisis many employers replaced full-time jobs with part-time roles, and they are yet to change them back.
Meanwhile, more older workers are also returning to the workforce part-time because their superannuation savings have taken a hit.
Employers say casual and part-time contracts have advantages
But employer groups say workplace flexibility is needed to achieve economic growth.
They suggest there are also growing numbers of Australians who are choosing casual and part-time jobs.
There are even job websites dedicated entirely to them.
Recruitment specialist Don Robertson recently launched jobflex.com.au to tap into the demand.
“What we’ve found is Generation Y job seekers are more inclined, are more interested to test a market if you will, in terms of potentially looking at different employment ideas before settling on one career,” Mr Robertson.
But Mr Oliver believes the casualisation of Australia’s workforce is hurting the broader economy.
“If we fully utilise the resources available to us in the labour market, then we could be having a higher level of economic activity and better living standards flowing from that.”