The Australian

Women at vanguard of jobs resurgence

- PATRICK COMMINS ECONOMICS CORRESPOND­ENT

Women are leading the postCOVID labour market recovery, with new data showing the number of payroll jobs held by females are now above pre-pandemic levels while men continue to lag.

Women were the hardest hit during the initial phases of the health crisis and associated national shutdown, and bore the brunt of the burden in caring duties, particular­ly as children had to stay home from school.

But the relatively robust expansion in female-dominated sectors since that time has resulted in payroll jobs held by women sitting 0.8 per cent higher in late March than a year earlier, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, versus 1 per cent lower for men.

Healthcare and social assistance is the largest employer of the 19 industries tracked by the ABS, with a workforce of about 1.8 million and where close to eight in 10 workers are women.

Payroll jobs in this sector are up 3.4 per cent over the past year, roughly the pace of growth one would have expected even without a pandemic, ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said.

In contrast, in sectors such as constructi­on — the third largest employing sector with about 1.2 million workers and where close to nine in 10 employees are male — there remained 3.5 per cent fewer payroll jobs than when COVID struck.

It was a similar story in manufactur­ing, where fewer than 30 per cent of about 900,000 workers are women. Payroll jobs in that sector were down 2.7 per cent over the year to late March.

The ABS data showed overall payroll jobs were up 1 per cent versus a year earlier, with no evidence that firms were shedding employees ahead of the expiry of JobKeeper at the end of March.

The federal government was criticised that its last budget did not contain any measures targeted specifical­ly at assisting women through the crisis.

With the May budget looming, Scott Morrison is under pressure to do more to promote gender equality in the workforce.

Last month, the Prime Minister appointed Jane Hume to be his government’s first Women’s Economic Security Minister.

But the payrolls figures — the February labour force statistics reveal a similar gender dynamic — suggest that in terms of employment outcomes through the pandemic, women employees in aggregate have fared at least as well as men.

Mr Jarvis agreed that women have led the post-COVID labour market recovery but noted that the outcomes for female employees was “not dramatical­ly better than men”.

Payroll jobs in the accommodat­ion and food services industry, where 55 per cent of employees are women, were the most heavily affected, down 9.5 per cent below mid-March 2020.

The payrolls data is drawn from the tax office’s single-touch payroll system, and covers 99 per cent of large and medium-sized employers, close to 80 per cent of small businesses and about 90 per cent of all employed people.

Labour force statistics for March will be released on Thursday

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