Record underemployment caused by pandemic

Physiotherapist Jacqui Bhardwaj is very much a person who likes to have a plan.

So when she bought her own practice in Brisbane last year, after over a decade working in the field, she had grand dreams for 2020.

But those plans quickly fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic, and she became one of many Australians left grappling with the financial impact of the economy coming to a standstill.

"We had to have the discussion around 'What do we do? Do we stand down staff? Do we have to get rid of the people that we literally just hired?" Ms Bhardwaj told AAP on Friday.

Business dropped by 60 per cent and her staff became 15 of the 1.2 million Australians who were jobless or working less hours in April.

"It has kept me up at night. I feel like I'm disappointing people," she admitted.

Some of her employees have young families, another had just built a house and one had to take shifts at a public hospital to make ends meet.

"If it was only me and my family, then that's not so bad, but knowing this affects at least 15 people and their families beyond me is very stressful."

"There were certainly a lot of tears," she added.

The practice has now been approved for JobKeeper payments, but her staff will have a financial struggle for months before the funds hit their accounts.

Sydney student nurse Sophie Gibbons knows what it's like to be on the other end of tough business decisions.

When lockdown began, she went from part-time hours to almost a fortnight without work.

"We saw in other countries that they were even employing second and third year nursing students as qualified nurses, and so thought we'd still be fine because if anything, they would be needing us more," she told AAP on Friday.

Instead the 20-year-old has drained her savings, with bowls of microwaved frozen vegetables on the menu and little else.

"At one point I was kind of rationing for about a week trying to figure out what I was going to do until the next payday."

Her application for government support was rejected and her partner, who is without a job, is now helping her pay rent with his own government payment.

"I don't like admitting that I need help, so having to actually ask someone who is also struggling was awkward for me. I felt quite uneasy about having to reach out."

But Ms Gibbons knows she's one of many in her position.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show 105,000 people lost their job in April, 600,000 worked less and another 515,000 left their job or stopped looking for one - a total of 1.2 million people.

But leading Australian economist Stephen Koukoulas pointed to the total number of hours worked by Australians as the key indicator of the economic fallout.

It fell by 9 per cent in a month, undoing up to seven years of growth.

"That's never happened before," he said.

He expects the situation will worsen when JobKeeper payments and limits on evictions end in October.

"The government will need to have something ready to transition from these emergency measures and make sure that a 'cold turkey' ending of payments doesn't lead to a double dip recession," Mr Koukoulas says.

As it is, he believes economic recovery could take years.

"It will still be a couple of years, in my view, before we get that unemployment rate back down to 5 per cent which is where it was just a couple of months ago."

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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