Finance Work Part-time jobs drive economic recovery as restrictions ease

Part-time jobs drive economic recovery as restrictions ease

Retail and hospitality businesses are rehiring part-time workers as restrictions ease. Photo: AAP
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Advertised job vacancies increased by 13.9 per cent in November as Victoria emerged from its protracted lockdown.

But in a worrying sign for the economic recovery, part-time jobs are coming back much faster than full-time positions.

Less than a week after the national accounts showed the Australian economy had grown for the first time this year, ANZ revealed on Monday that the average number of job ads per month had increased to 145,684 in November.

That was 13.9 per cent more than October and just 4.7 per cent fewer than February, before the pandemic took hold.

ANZ senior economist Catherine Birch said the recovery was stronger than anticipated and mirrored improvement in official employment figures.

“But when we think about the pre-pandemic levels of job ads, that’s really reflective of churn in the labour market – people changing jobs and the economy expanding, so businesses hiring more people and that sort of thing,” Ms Birch said.

“Whereas job ads now also have to reflect getting a whole lot of people who until recently were employed, back into the workforce.”

ANZ’s figures provide further evidence that the economic recovery in Australia is under way, but separate data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics points to troubling times ahead.

“One of the key points that we get in the monthly [ABS labour force] data that’s really important, is that part-time employment is actually back above its pre-pandemic levels, whereas full-time employment is still well down,” Ms Birch said.

“And while [full-time employment] didn’t fall as far earlier on, it’s really quite sluggish in starting to recover.”

Australia had 187,000 fewer full-time jobs in October than the same time last year, but 55,000 more part-time positions.

Ms Birch said the weakness in full-time work was seen across the whole country and could not, therefore, be described as a “Victorian restrictions story”.

“That’s going to be a concern going into 2021 when we think about what the employment trajectory looks like,” she said.

And Centre for Future Work director Jim Stanford flagged a similar concern – noting that 83 per cent of the jobs recovered since May had been part-time positions.

Dr Stanford said employers were unwilling to rehire staff on a full-time, permanent basis, as some were worried about the uncertain outlook and others were using the pandemic as an opportunity to “restructure their employment relations still further in favour of precarious, contingent employment”.

“Because of the overwhelming concentration of new jobs since May in part-time positions, the share of part-time work in October reached the highest level in Australian history (32.3 per cent),” Dr Stanford said.

“This exacerbates the longer-term decline in the quality of work in Australia’s labour market.”

Dr Stanford said roughly 226,000 fewer Australians had jobs in October than they did in February, after the economy regained about three-quarters of the 875,000 jobs lost during the initial shutdowns.

But he said actual unemployment was closer to 20 per cent than the 7 per cent indicated by the ABS.

“Counting unemployment, underemployment, and people who aren’t seeking work even though they want to work, a broader measure of genuine labour market slack would be closer to 20 per cent,” Dr Stanford said.

“That is why it feels more like a depression than a short-term recession.”

The ANZ job ads data comes after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned Australia against withdrawing economic stimulus until the recovery is “well entrenched”.