‘Australians will lose their jobs’
THE Government is celebrating unexpectedly good employment figures released today, which show the number of Australians in work has exceeded 13 million people.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash held a press conference to announce the data, saying there's now a "record number" of people in work.
Senator Cash used the phrase "record number" several times, and in any other time it would be a momentous day for the Coalition Government. The coronavirus has changed everything.
Australia's unemployment rate fell to 5.1 per cent for the month of February and the participation rate is at the highest point in almost 20 years.
But there's a hidden detail in the result that paints a dire economic picture of the months ahead as the coronavirus crisis worsens.
The number of underemployed Australians - that is, people who are technically employed but don't work enough hours to reasonably get by - has hit a record high of 1.18 million.
"Today's labour force figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics are sobering, but just the beginning of what Australians are set to face," Labor's employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor said.
An indicator of the impact of coronavirus on employment is seen in the monthly hours worked data, Mr O'Connor said, which decreased by three million in February.
"Australians face difficult times ahead in terms of unemployment and underemployment, because of COVID 19," he said.
Senator Cash conceded the strong figures don't reflect the challenges currently being faced by many, particularly small businesses as a result of coronavirus.
"But what the figures do show - and the fact that we do have a record number of Australians in employment - is that we are facing this crisis and we come from a very good base," she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is tomorrow expected to announce details of a new stimulus package, which is likely to include greater measures to help Australians who lose their income.
"As we know, and as the Prime Minister … made clear, businesses will close, and some Australians will lose their jobs," Senator Cash said.
"I want to reassure Australians that the government is doing everything that it can to cushion the blow at this time, to get you through this period and ensure that we emerge stronger on the other side."
While she wouldn't be drawn on how many people might lose their jobs, Senator Cash said Treasury had modelled a number of scenarios.
"We are focused on keeping as many businesses doing what we need them to do and stay in business, and we are focusing on keeping as many Australians as we can in work," she said.
"For those that we know will be losing their jobs, finding them alternative employment as quickly as possible and giving them the appropriate support that they need to get them through this period so that we all emerge stronger at the end of it."
Labor is calling for a number of urgent measures to protect jobs, including support for sole traders who are yet to receive any government support.
"Otherwise viable small businesses that are struggling or have ceased trading have raised concerns the original small business economic stimulus package is not enough to keep them going, let alone filter through to their employees," Mr O'Connor said.
Greater support is needed for casual workers, who are particularly vulnerable as work hours - and wages - dry up.
"The Government should examine whether workers who have now found themselves unemployed but not eligible for the $750 stimulus, are not falling through the cracks," he said.
Originally published as 'Australians will lose their jobs'