The COVID-19 crisis has revealed how polarised and inequitable our employment market has been in the past. Not only has the pandemic exposed the vulnerability of the industry structure of our economy and the precarious nature of employment for so many, it has also highlighted the importance of the work carried out by so many Tasmanians whose industry and jobs have previously been undervalued; namely the health care and social assistance sector, educators, child carers, cleaners and many public servants.
The recovery process provides the opportunity to correct the structural economic and social deficiencies that exist in our labour market. Policy needs to move beyond just creating jobs, but to creating good jobs which offer quality work in a good working environment. There are three guiding principles which measure good jobs, all of which need to be objective rather than subjective.
- Focusing on job-related well-being; job quality is constituted by a set of work features which have the capability of enhancing or diminishing worker well-being
- Maintaining a job-only focus; that is, the attributes of the job occupied by the worker and not the workers personal circumstances or background
- Adopting a multi-faced approach; a variety of job attributes impact worker well-being. While remuneration is considered the main factor, there are others such as security of work, autonomy, range of tasks, level of effort, career opportunities, access to training and/or professional development, flexibility, skill utilisation and so forth.
In Tasmania, prior to COVID-19, the workforce was polarised between high and low skill jobs. Almost half the workforce (47.1%) required no formal qualification higher than a Certificate II, while less than a third (29.7%) required a bachelor degree or higher to undertake their job. Over time, Tasmania’s workforce was becoming further polarised, with the proportion requiring a certificate III or IV qualification (a trade ticket) declining to 12.6% of the workforce compared with 16.6% in 2016.
More and more people in the workforce were also in casual roles – that is, roles with flexibility, but usually without job security and the protections of sick, carer and holiday pay.
In August 2019, there were almost 250,000 people employed in Tasmania. Of these:
- 42,500 wanted to work more hours
- 17,000 had more than one job
- 97,200 were employed casually
- 93,800 did not have access to paid sick leave entitlements – three in five workers
- 26.3% of women, 21.4% of men
- 4,600 did not know if they had paid sick leave entitlements
- 18,700 worked as independent contractors with no entitlements
The Tasmanian workforce was dominated by gendered industries and occupation clusters. Five industry sectors made up more than half of the Tasmanian workforce; healthcare and social assistance (16.4%), education and training, retail trade, accommodation and food services and construction (7.2%). While women made up the majority of workers in health care and social assistance (80.2%) and education and training (69.4%), men made up 93.9% of the construction industry.
The roles most likely to be casualised, underemployed and working more than one job are those also in lower skill level jobs with low pay – precisely those roles that involve face-to-face and hands-on contact, care and support for customers, clients, patients and other vulnerable people.
In relation to paid sick leave entitlements in Tasmania, pre-COVID-19, only a quarter (26.7) of cleaners had access to paid leave, just over half the hospitality, retail and service managers (53%) and food trade workers (57%), 69% of education professionals had access while one in five (21%) workers in residential care services had no access. The situation was more dire for those who worked as a carer or an aide; one in four (24.7%) had no paid sick leave but worked face-to-face with older and more vulnerable people.
These workers were also more likely to be under-employed and wanting to work more hours. Over one in five community and personal service workers were underemployed (21.6%), over a quarter of those employed in the accommodation and food services sector were under-employed (27.4%), as were those in the arts and recreation sector (25.0%), 17.2% in other services and 16.7% in retail trade, the majority of them women.
At a time when making businesses and workplaces COVIDSafe for customers, clients and workers is a priority in our economic and social recovery, the lack of access to paid sick leave by largely under-employed Tasmanians working in contact roles with vulnerable people threatens our recovery. As new COVIDSafe policies require sick workers to stay at home rather than work, and sick children to not attend school, access to paid sick and carer leave entitlements will be critical to ensuring these regulations are adhered to.
The economic component of the post COVID-19 recovery must not be considered in isolation of the social component. Efforts to create jobs must focus not just on higher skilled jobs but also on quality jobs; those which provide enough hours of work, with security of income, access to paid sick and carers leave, the opportunity for career progression and intrinsic job quality. To do this, economic policy must be shaped by industry policy. More secure work and quality working environments are better for the economy as well as the health and well-being of Tasmanians.