Insecure Workers are 'Shock Troops' of the Pandemic

New research confirms that workers in casual and insecure jobs have borne the lion’s share of job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic – both the first lockdowns in 2020, and the more recent second wave of closures.

Since May, workers in casual and part-time jobs have suffered over 70% of job losses from renewed lockdowns and workplace closures. Casual workers have been 8 times more likely to lose work than permanent staff. And part-timers have been 4.5 times more likely to lose work than full-timers.

“Workers in insecure jobs have been the shock troops of the pandemic,” said Jim Stanford, Economist with the Centre for Future Work and author of the report. “They suffered by far the deepest casualties during the first round of layoffs. Then they were sent back into battle, as the economy temporarily recovered. But now their livelihoods are being shot down again, in mass numbers.”

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Manufacturing Vital to Australia's Post-COVID Reconstruction

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic disruptions, both within Australia and globally, have highlighted the strategic importance of a vibrant manufacturing sector to national economic performance and resilience. The Economic References Committee of the Senate of Australia recently conducted an inquiry into the future of Australia's manufacturing industry, and the policy measures that are essential to ensuring its presence and success.

The Centre for Future Work made a submission to the inquiry, drawing on our previous research into the spilllover benefits of healthy manufacturing, Australia's structurally unbalanced engagement in global manufactures trade, and the important role Australia's renewable energy endowments could play in leveraging future manufacturing expansion.

Please see our full submission, authored by Jim Stanford and Dan Nahum.


Post-COVID-19 policy responses to climate change: beyond capitalism?

A sustainable social, political and environmental response to the "twin crises" of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change will require policymaking beyond capitalism. Only by achieving a post-growth response to these crises can we meaningfully shape a future of jobs in renewable-powered industries shaped by organised labour, democratic values and public institutions. Anything less will merely create more markets and more technocratic fixes that reinforce the growing social and environmental inequalities that our current political system cannot overcome.

As Australia moves further away from anything resembling a sustainable pathway to reach these goals (i.e., $90bn submarines that we will not see for at least 20 years but no meaningful action on climate change), a new Labour and Industry article - co-authored by Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow Mark Dean and Centre for Future Work Associate, Professor Al Rainnie analyses four alternative responses proposed by Australian unions, climate change groups and grassroots community organisations.

The first 50 downloads of the article are free and a pre-print of the article is available at the Carmichael Centre website here.

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Job Losses Accelerating in Higher Education

Australia's universities were uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and recession -- including the closure of borders to most international students, the implementation of new COVID-safe instruction practices, and effective exclusion from  Commonwealth support programs like JobKeeper.

Now, 18 months after the borders were first closed, things are getting worse for universities, not better. New research from the Centre for Future Work confirms that tertiary education has been hit by bigger job losses this year than any other non-agricultural sector in the economy.

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When the Show Cannot Go On: Rebooting Arts & Culture After COVID

Culture is an inescapable part of what it means to be human. We can no more imagine a life without the arts than we can imagine a life without language, custom, or ritual. Australia is home to the oldest continuing cultural traditions on the planet, and some of the world's most renowned actors, musicians and artists. But while we have a proud story to tell, the future of Australian culture looks increasingly uncertain.

New research from the Centre for Future Work, by Senior Economist Alison Pennington and Monash University’s Ben Eltham, reveals the ongoing, devastating impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s arts and entertainment sector and provides a series of recommendations to government that would reboot the creative sector after the crisis. 

Key findings:

  • More people work in broad cultural industries (over 350,000) than many other areas of the economy that are receiving greater policy supports, including aviation (40,500) and coal mining (48,900).
  • Despite years of significant funding pressures and policy neglect, the arts and entertainment sector contributed $17 billion in GDP to the Australian economy in 2018-19.
  • By international standards, Australia ranks low in its funding support for the arts and culture. The OECD average for government expenditure on the cultural sector is 1.2% of annual GDP. Australia contributes just 0.9%.
  • Due to their disproportionately insecure labour market conditions, arts and entertainment sector workers are experiencing significant ruptures in their employment arrangements due to COVID-19.
  • The federal government has not adequately responded to the scale and severity of the crisis in the arts & entertainment sector. Worse still, it has implemented increasingly hostile policies, including weakening local production quotas and increasing the cost of studying creative fields.
  • Unpredictable health restrictions due to vaccination program failures mean the viability of the arts & cultural sector will likely be hampered for years to come.
  • Australia needs a public-led reboot of the arts & cultural sector that lays the groundwork for a sustainable, vibrant future for the arts and culture, built through ambitious public investment and planning across many sectors of our cultural economy.
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A Review of Lapsis

The increasing precarity of economic life for many people is being reflected in a growing output of film and TV, including the work of Ken Loach (‘Sorry We Missed You’, ‘I, Daniel Blake’), Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s 2019 documentary ‘American Factory’, Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning ‘Parasite’ as well as his ‘Snowpiercer’ film and subsequent TV series, the interplanetary class divisions explored by the Syfy Channel’s ‘The Expanse’, and Chloé Zhao’s Oscar-winning ‘Nomadland’. The Centre for Future Work's first film review considers a new entry in this recent canon of art imitating life.

Writer-director Noah Hutton has shrewdly crafted a science-fiction world that closely resembles our own. The premise of the film is that quantum computing has revolutionised the world’s financial markets, further exploding the dominance of the financial industry. The shabby underbelly of this quantum computing revolution is the rise of ‘cabling’ — workers managed by an algorithm, via an app, dragging cables through the woods between one quantum computing node and another.

Read Economist Dan Nahum's review of Lapsis here.


Summary Report: Funding High-Quality Aged Care Services

The Centre for Future Work has prepared a 4-page summary of our recent detailed report on funding needed improvements in aged care services in Australia, in the wake of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

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Industrial Policy-Making After COVID-19: Manufacturing, Innovation and Sustainability

As Treasurer during the 1980s, Paul Keating lamented that Australian governments had for decades been allowing the country's sophisticated industrial base to fall apart as unsophisticated raw materials came to dominate the nation's exports and as a result, its economy slipped into developing-world status. Keating's famous warning of Australia's looming 'banana republic' status spurred the Hawke and subsequent Keating Labor governments into action on economic restructuring, which included considering a range of industry policy intervention options to put Australia on a track to advanced, industrial status, as had been the aim of post-war nation-building that helped to institute an advanced manufacturing industrial base in Australia.

But since the 1990s, the 'default' economic and industry policy setting of government has ultimately been to favour resource extraction as our national strength. Even despite the growing threat of climate change and global economic crises that make a shift to 'green' industrial transformation a pathway pursued by many other nations, current Coalition government policy continues to reflect deliberate, calculated emphasis on the extraction and export of raw materials. Australia risks cementing its developing-world economic status if we do not consider important industry policy challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to opportunities for Australia to not only rebuild, but reconstruct our economy in a way that capitalises on our national manufacturing potential and their ability to contribute to a sustainable recovery from the economic and social crisis that has culminated in lockdowns and recession. The future development of Australia's manufacturing industry must focus on the opportunities presented by renewable energy to drive innovation, industrial transformation and a green future shaped by a skilled manufacturing workforce.

Researchers from the Centre for Future Work, Mark Dean, Al Rainnie (Centre for Future Work Associate), Jim Stanford and Dan Nahum, have co-authored a new scholarly paper which will be published in the academic journal, the Economic and Labour Relations Review and is currently available as an online-first publication at their website.

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Preventing Workplace Mental Health Injuries Would Save Billions

Australian society is experiencing an epidemic of mental illness that imposes enormous costs on individuals with poor mental health, their families, and the broader economy. There is no doubt that the stress, isolation and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made this crisis even worse.

Unsafe workplaces contribute significantly to the incidence of mental illness and injury. Workplace factors which contribute to mental health problems include unreasonable job demands, exposure to violence and trauma, long or irregular working hours, an absence of worker voice and control, and bullying and harassment.

New research from the Centre for Future Work suggests that by requiring stronger monitoring and prevention measures in Australian workplaces, a significant share of mental illness and injury could be avoided. In addition to reducing the toll of mental illness for workers and their families, these measures would also generate substantial economic and fiscal benefits.

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The Huge Contradiction at the Heart of the Federal Budget

The Commonwealth government has tabled its budget for the 2021-22 financial year. The government is counting on a vigorous and sustained burst of consumer spending by Australian households to drive the post-COVID recovery. Yet the budget itself concedes that the main sources of income to finance expanded consumer spending (namely, wages and income supports) will remain weak or even contract. As shown in the Centre for Future Work's analysis of the budget, these two dimensions of the budget are fundamentally incompatible.

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