As the lockdowns ended last year, job openings soared across Australia, exposing staff shortages that are now hampering economic activity as Covid cases rise.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported on Wednesday that job postings increased by nearly a fifth, or 18.5 percent, from the previous three months, to 396,100.
Bjorn Jarvis, chief of the ABS’s workforce statistics unit, said the figure was over three-quarters higher than in February 2020, before the Covid pandemic interruptions.
“These data continue to reflect considerable demand for workers from businesses that have been locked out, as well as persisting labour shortages, particularly in lower-paying industries,” Jarvis added.
All sectors of the economy reported more job openings, with the private sector leading the way with 361,700 job openings, up 19.4 percent from August. Vacancies in the public sector increased by 9.7%.
“Job openings were also heightened in all states and territories, ranging from 120 percent more than before the pandemic in Western Australia to 49 percent in the Australian Capital Territory,” Jarvis said.
Job vacancies in the arts and recreation, as well as housing and food services, increased by nearly 260 percent and 210 percent, respectively, as compared to February 2020.
While the data predate the Omicron strain’s rapid spread, they highlight how tight the labour market was before the recent economic turbulences, with employers now struggling to find workers who have Covid or are in close touch with people who have.
The current job shortages, according to Tim Nieuwenhuis, managing director of Workfast Australia, a company that recruits staff for companies ranging from warehousing to mines and other major projects, are “way worse” than during the Delta wave in 2021, which shut down Victoria, New South Wales, and the ACT for months.
“We’re getting a tremendous quantity of calls,” he added, adding that the well-publicized logistics bottlenecks were only part of the issue. “Everything has been hit in the same way.”
As part of state and federal economic stimulus plans, major construction projects such as new roads and other infrastructure are set to begin in early 2022, according to Nieuwenhuis. These were now being halted as developers’ work rosters were being depleted by absentees, or they were unable to get the requisite materials or equipment due to supplier distortions.
“If they keep going down this road, they’ll kill businesses faster than lockdowns,” he said.
Because there is less government assistance now, Nieuwenhuis predicts that workers will simply refuse to take Covid testing if all of their symptoms are flu-like.
“If they’re sick, stay at home,” he urged. “If you’re not sick, go to work,” he said. “Don’t be concerned about being tested.”
The threat of a $1,000 fine for those who test positive to a fast antigen test but don’t report it, announced by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet on Wednesday, will simply encourage people to avoid tests.
“Logic dictates that people will not take the test in order to avoid penalties and continue working,” Nieuwenhuis added. “We advise all employees to obey directions, but based on what employers tell us, employees are desperate to work.”