an empty blue tea cup on a white table

What has happened to women’s unemployment in the ACT during COVID-19?

The impacts of the COVID-19 shutdown on employment and unemployment have been quite different for women and men in the ACT.  Some of the ACT industries which were hardest hit by COVID-19 had mainly women workers – for example women are the majority of workers in schools and childcare, healthcare, and in the clerical and non management roles in the universities.

And ACT women were overrepresented in those industries that use casuals and which were impacted immediately by the COVID-19 shutdown, in particular retail and department stores, and hospitality and accommodation.  And many of these workers do not receive sick leave entitlements.

Nationally the ABS reported (in the 18 April release of the Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages -Cat. 6160.0.55.001) that in Australia women had lost more jobs than men in March and April, but that men suffered a bigger pay cut with wages for men falling 8.9% compared to 7% for women.

In the ACT the number of jobs for men declined by 5.5% in March and April, and for women the number of jobs declined by 7.4%. But the data for the ACT about wages showed a different picture – while ACT men’s wages fell by 6.9% in March and April, women’s wages fell by 7.9%.

On 14 May, ABS Labour Force data for April showed an increase in the ACT’s unemployment rate by 1% to 4.2% and the loss of 8,700 jobs in the ACT. The figures also showed that the ACT’s total number of employed people had dropped from 240,200 to 231,500 between March and April.

The national figures also showed the reduction in hours worked was greater for women than for men (11.5% compared to 7.5%) and a greater number of women working zero hours (17.4% compared to 11.2%). While we do not have the data by gender in the ACT we can expect that the situation will be the same.

It is a reminder to Government of the importance of using a gender lens when we start to look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the ACT. And that we not just looking at the overall numbers about work and unemployment.  Especially when we know from the responses to our COVID-19 survey that women took on most of the unpaid care work – some by juggling their work for home with caring roles, as well as caring for older or disabled relatives.

So it will be important that when the ACT looks at the success of our recovery post COVID, we consider not just the gendered economic impacts but also the specific challenges faced by women from Government decisions that are often not considered in the analysis of disasters and pandemics.