More than a quarter of Australia’s workers now have no leave entitlements. This recent shift — revealed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month — extends the long list of the ways employees are increasingly losing out.

More than 2,527,500 workers were found in August to have no holiday, long service or sick leave entitlements provided by their employer. This comprised 848,200 full-time workers and more than 1,679,300 casual and part-timers.

The percentage of workers without leave has now been above 25% for the last two quarters and above that level for five out of the last six.

The average for the last four quarters — November 2016 to August 2017 — was 25.08%. One year earlier, for the same quarters, the average was 24.65. The year before that the average was just 24.45%. So a steady shift is clearly underway.

We do not have quarterly figures before August 2014, so precise comparisons with earlier years are tricky. We do, however, have annual figures from other ABS files.

Back in 1993, only 22% of workers were without secure leave. This gradually rose to 26.1% in 1998 and settled back at 25.6% — give or take one decimal point — from 2004 to 2007.

A steady decline in workers with no leave entitlements followed thereafter. From 24.4% in 2009, it fell to 23.9 the next year and reached a low of 23.1% in 2012.

So the setbacks just in the last three years are a reversal of a medium term positive trend.

This escalation of workers without leave entitlements is disturbing for unions and other worker advocates — as well as employees themselves — as this is yet another instance of trending disadvantage.

The number of workers with only part-time or casual jobs has ballooned recently. The percentage of part-time or casual workers remained steady through the last five Labor years, averaging 29.6%. For the final year, the mean was 29.9%. Through the Coalition period, this has risen significantly to average 31.1% over the past four years and 31.8% over the last full year.

For the last four quarters, annual wages growth has been stuck at 1.9%, the lowest rate ever recorded. That is a significant wage reduction when inflation and population rises are taken into account.

Wages as a proportion of Australia’s total income — its gross domestic product — are now the lowest since records began in 1959.

Monthly hours worked per adult have tumbled in the last four years. This is the best measure of jobs any economy generates, as it takes into account full-time work, part-time work and population shifts.

The lowest this reached through the Labor period was 85.7. It has been below 85.5 for 16 of the 23 months since Scott Morrison became Treasurer and Michaelia Cash became Employment Minister.

In August, 727,450 people were unemployed. This is the 10th consecutive month the total has been at or above 712,000. The last time that happened before the Coalition was elected in 2013 was back in 1997.

The number of workers who need to work more hours breached 1 million in August 2014. It has remained above 1 million workers for the entire period since, now 13 quarters. It is currently 1,115,300. That’s up from 8.1% of employed persons when the Coalition took office to 9.1% now.

These latest leave entitlements revelations bolster the conclusions drawn from almost all other indicators of the wellbeing of the majority of Australians — cost of living, disposable income, household debt, housing approvals, taxes, charges and others. These show the majority of Australians are progressively getting poorer.

Meanwhile, the very rich minority and the large corporations are enjoying strong trade volumes, high commodity prices, record corporate profits and increasing shareholder dividends, executive salaries and bonuses.

Increasingly, Australia is becoming a nation with two disparate economies.

A spokesperson for the ABS advised Crikey that the Bureau began publishing quarterly data on leave entitlements – or lack thereof – from 2014 onwards in response to demand for this data from its customers.

Strangely, no reports on this data appear to have been run in the mainstream media. Or maybe that’s not so strange.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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