Male workers facing 'tsunami' of unemployment after women initially worst impacted by recession

There are warnings workers in male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing are most in danger of losing their jobs as the coronavirus recession progresses.

Workers are seen at a construction site in Brisbane.

Workers are seen at a construction site in Brisbane. Source: AAP

Men could be facing a "tsunami" of unemployment as the prolonged impacts of the coronavirus recession transitions from female- to male-dominated industries, according to analysis released by Labor frontbencher Clare O’Neil. 

Ms O'Neil used a speech to the McKell Institute think tank on Monday to warn male workers are becoming increasingly impacted by the fallout of the recession as the economic crisis evolves. 

Female workers were initially hardest hit by business shutdowns forced by the coronavirus pandemic and government lockdowns.

Labor's spokesperson for the Future of Work Clare O'Neil.
Labor's spokesperson for the Future of Work Clare O'Neil. Source: AAP

But evidence shows working class men are now bearing an increasingly heavier load of job losses, spokesperson for the future of work Ms O’Neil said.

“While women lost more work in the first phase of the recession, the analysis I am releasing today shows ... there is a tsunami coming for workers in predominantly male industries,” she said. 

Ms O’Neil, citing research from consultant group McKinsey, warns that some of the worst hit sectors running into March next year are set to include construction (88 per cent male), manufacturing (73 per cent male) and professional services (lawyers, consultants - of which 57 per cent are male). 

The research estimates that when JobKeeper and JobSeeker are withdrawn, just under half a million jobs will be lost - with more than 60 per cent of those held by men, according to analysis cited by Ms O'Neil.  

In her speech, she also called for more “nuance” in examining the impacts of the pandemic through a gender lens and warned against the increasingly polarised nature of the debate. 

"It’s not a competition between the genders, especially when it comes to who is doing it tougher in a bloody awful recession," she said. 

"My point is that everyone is suffering." 

She said the first wave of the recession did hurt women “terribly”, including in sectors such as hospitality, accommodation and parts of the health and education system. 

Ms O’Neil says that many of the sectors are reliant on casual workers, who are more likely to be laid off and also miss out on the JobKeeper wage subsidy. 

“Women had it worse to begin with. Now it is men, and there is evidence that as the months progress, we may see more of this, she said. 

Ms O'Neil cited data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that by September 2020 men were more likely to be unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 recession. 

The male unemployment rate now stands at 7.15 per cent compared to the female rate of 6.17 per cent. Male unemployment has risen more than female unemployment during the COVID period, she said.

While women are still more likely to be underemployed than men - the increase in underemployment is higher for men than women, according to Ms O’Neil.  

She said the group of men most vulnerable to job losses remained the roughly 40 per cent who have not pursued much education beyond high-school.

“On average, these men are experiencing a period of protracted economic decline. This is a problem that needs and deserves our attention,” she said.  

She said highly educated men living in cities, by contrast, have generally fared better than the general population.

Grattan Institute researcher Kate Griffiths agreed there has been a “shift” resulting in a “more even” spread of the recession impacting on men and women. 

But she said it should still be recognised the coronavirus recession has been worse than previous economic crises in relation to its impact on female workers. 

“We’re definitely seeing this shift,” she said.

“[But] compared to previous crises this is the worst one for women. The difference here is it’s pretty much 50-50 in terms of unemployment. When you’re looking at a 50-50 recession you would want a 50-50 response.”

The opposition, the Greens and some policy analysts have criticised the federal government's 6 October budget for not doing enough to support female-dominated industries.  

They argue that male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing were boosted by tens of billions of dollars in stimulus spending. 

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the economic response as a budget supporting all Australians and has warned against "voices of division" undermining the nation's economic recovery.  

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction's restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at

Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: , , , , , ,

5 min read
Published 2 November 2020 at 3:00pm
By Tom Stayner
Source: SBS