In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia needed timely and accurate economic, social and health information. In March 2020, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Tax Office (ATO) fast-tracked work to use the new Single Touch Payroll (STP) data to provide near real-time insights on changes in the labour market. On 21 April 2020, the ABS released weekly payroll jobs and wages indexes for the first time, to complement the ABS’ existing labour market statistics.
Australia recorded its 100th case of COVID-19 in the week ending 14 March 2020. This was just before the impact of nationwide restrictions became visible in the economy and particularly pronounced in the labour market. This week was chosen as the base week of payroll jobs and wages indexes.
The release of the week ending 13 March 2021 provides an opportunity to review payroll jobs and wages in the year since the 100th case of COVID-19.
Fast fall and initial signs of recovery: March to June 2020
In the first few weeks of restrictions, payroll jobs and wages fell sharply. By mid-April payroll jobs were down 8.5% (around 902,000 jobs) and wages down 6.5%.
In late March 2020, the government announced the introduction of the JobKeeper wage subsidy. JobKeeper payments received by businesses reduced the extent of the falls in payroll jobs and wages from March 2020. For more detail on its impact over this period, see the previously released article on Incorporating JobKeeper.
Some restrictions eased in late April 2020, resulting in a steady climb in payroll jobs and wages to the end of June 2020.
A new financial year: July to September 2020
Payroll jobs and wages continued to increase into the new financial year. A small early peak in wages was observed in early July, as a result of end-of-financial year bonuses paid by some businesses (including one-off COVID-19 related bonuses). The larger wages peak in late September also related to periodic bonuses paid in some industries (e.g. Mining, Financial and insurance services and Information media and telecommunications).
The recovery in payroll jobs (and to a lesser extent wages) plateaued into August 2020, as the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 cases in Victoria became evident on the Australian level indexes.
Signs of seasonality: October to December 2020
With Victoria’s recovery gaining momentum, national payroll jobs and wages resumed a faster climb. The dip in wages in late September 2020 coincided with school and tertiary institution breaks and changes in JobKeeper (eligibility and the first reduction in payment rates).
Payroll jobs and wages peaked in 2020 in mid-December, at 1.7% and 2.6% above mid-March.
However, the strong rise and subsequent fall in payroll jobs and wages at year-end was observed in these data a year earlier. This pattern reflects the strong seasonality in the labour market that is also observed each year in Labour Force statistics. For more information, see the Year-end data variability article.
A new year: January to March 2021
In January 2021, the progressive resumption of business activity after the New Year low saw payroll jobs and wages steadily climb. January 2021 also saw the second reduction in JobKeeper payment rates.
Payroll jobs and wages returned to mid-March 2020 levels in February 2021.
A year after the 100th case of COVID-19, payroll jobs sit 0.2% (or 26,000 jobs) above mid-March 2020 and wages 1.4% above.