Over the course of the pandemic there has been a range of support provided by governments to people and businesses. These support programs have changed over time, which is important to consider when assessing changes in Labour Force statistics through the COVID period, including the extent to which people have lost their jobs or have reduced (or no) hours of work but remain employed.
The current main government support payments are paid directly to people (including the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Payment and JobSeeker Payment) or directly to businesses (including the JobSaver Payment, which, unlike the JobKeeper wage subsidy, is not paid to businesses with an explicit payroll connection to specific employees).
The ABS continues to categorise people as ‘employed’ or ‘not employed’ in the survey using the long-standing concepts and practices used in Labour Force statistics, and are not impacted or determined by whether a person or employing business is eligible or in receipt of government support.
The Labour Force Survey questionnaire, which has not changed during the COVID period, starts with two key questions that identify whether the respondents were employed:
- Did you do any work at all in a job, business or farm last week?
- Did you have a job, business or farm that you were away from because of holidays, sickness or any other reasons?
Anyone who indicates that they DID paid work will be considered ‘employed’.
If they DIDN’T do any paid work (paid by their employer or business), the second question will then ascertain whether they still had a job but didn’t do any work because they were temporarily away from work.
Anyone who indicates that they DIDN’T have a job (that they were absent from) will be categorised as ‘not employed’ and either ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’, depending on their responses to other questions. People can be ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’ while receiving the COVID-19 Disaster Payment or the JobSeeker Payment. To be categorised as ‘unemployed’ people must have not worked, be looking for work and available to start work.
Whereas, anyone who indicates that they DID have a job (that they were absent from) will be considered ‘employed’ if they were away from work for less than 4 weeks, or paid by their employer for any part of the last four weeks. These are key factors in determining whether someone is employed, particularly during lockdown periods.
Over the pandemic, falls in employment during lockdown periods have tended to increase as lockdowns have extended beyond 4 weeks. At that point, people who were temporarily absent from work and not paid by their employer for any part of the last four weeks are no longer considered to be ‘employed’ and will instead be either ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’, depending on their responses to other questions. This is regardless of whether they still have an attachment to their job. It is also important to note that during lockdowns many people leaving employment will also leave the labour force entirely, given the challenges in actively look for work and being available for work.
A spotlight on changes in job attachment during the pandemic is included in this release.