Over-represented and under-rewarded – that’s a conclusion drawn by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) about women in the workplace impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in a study and report released on Wednesday.
Focusing on those in the female-dominated and lower-paid industries such as hospitality and retail but also in many of the frontline sectors as well, the report found that women have been disproportionally affected versus how male-dominant industries mainly in the construction, building, resources and logistics sectors were impacted by the pandemic.
In its conclusions, the ACTU recommend the formation of a three-pronged body made up of government, unions and corporate entities to investigate the findings of its report and ensure that taxpayer-based economic recovery funding balances the playing field between women and men in greater industry.
“Leaving women behind weakens our economy and will lead to a longer, slower recovery. Investment which reduces inequality is also the fastest way to restart economic growth,” said Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.
Highlights of the deficiencies facing females in employment areas found the following:
- Twenty-one percent of the female workforce – or 1.3 million women – has either lost work or experiencing pressures on their capacities to retain work;
- Women face the dichotomous situation of a shortage of secure employment coupled with an increase in the household caring burden – the latter of which, being of an unpaid nature, adds to the result of women seeing their capacity of doing paid work reduced;
- Women’s employment between February and August of 2020 declined by 3.4 percent, as opposed to 2.9 per cent for men, and thereby women’s unemployment rates soared by 32 per cent in that time, peaking at 6.6 per cent for women;
- Fifty-seven percent of all full-time jobs held by women have been lost since February, representing 120,000 jobs;
- Of the 13 industries where women lost jobs and employment in the February-to-August frame of study, 25 per cent occurred in the arts and recreation sector, 18 per cent in accommodation and hospitality, and 16 per cent in administrative and support services;
- As a reflection on the casualisation of the workforce at large, and the greater tendencies to hold down jobs from more than one employer simultaneously, women lost 20 percent of their secondary jobs as opposed to six percent of their main jobs
- After the reading of the federal budget last month, women were seen to be left behind there as well, with the new tax cuts greatly favouring men to the tune of $2.28 for every women’s dollar;
- On the government’s Superannuation Early Release Scheme, 1.7 million women have withdrawn an average of $7430 from their accounts, with those under 20 years of age and between the ages of 36 and 55 more likely to raid their accounts, and a total of 300,000 women having emptied their accounts completely;
- And with regard to the JobKeeper cuts, twice as many women saw their stimulus payments cut as opposed to men
“If the Federal Government is committed to a shared and robust recovery, they must take seriously the particular impact of COVID on women, and the lack of support of the 2020 budget in supporting women’s employment and economic participation,” O’Neil said.
One such pathway that would enhance the Morrison government’s economic recovery efforts concerns training and education – however, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), even those pathway areas have experienced sharp downturns of their own.
In the interval from the middle of May 2020, women were less likely – by 52 to 75 per cent – to be fully engaged with work, study, or both, than their male counterparts would be, with the figures being driven by general drops in full-time employment opportunities.
Yet that was not the lone factor in the general decline in education-based training opportunities, such as through a TAFE program.
“Due to fewer international students, there was also an overall decrease in people studying for a Certificate III or above,” Steven Nicholas, the ABS’s director of education and training statistics, said on Wednesday.
“There was also a fall in apprentices, from five per cent of 15-24-year-olds in May 2019, to four per cent in May 2020,” Nicholas added.
As for remedies to the situation of gendered inequality exacerbated by the pandemic, the government – alongside the reading of the federal budget – offered up a Women’s Economic Security Statement.
However, O’Neil and the ACTU have taken this to exist as nothing more than a token gesture without any real effort to back up narrowing gaps on inequities.
“Historic levels of government funding are being committed to the crisis recovery, and we believe that new formal oversight beyond government is critical to ensure this funding reaches women,” O’Neil said.
In addition for pushing its advocacy for a tripartite oversight body, the ACTU also recommends among the following:
- free universal childcare;
- reversing cuts to JobSeeker, due to come into effect next month;
- the reversal of cuts and program expansion of JobKeeper;
- adding Paid Pandemic Leave, family leave and domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards;
- investment in TAFE, and the healthcare, education, disability, community and social services;
- investment in social housing, particularly for women’s homelessness and domestic violence crises;
- reforming the contributions systems to superannuation, and barring any early access schemes to superannuation
O’Neil says that the ACTU, in the interests of equality and fairness which exist as a couple of their core values, will keep the heat on the Morrison government to ensure that employed women receive their just due.
“This crisis presents us with an opportunity to create a more equal society, address systemic failures and ensure that public investment is improving our society, not entrenching inequality,” O’Neil added.
Also by William Olson:
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