According to the Australian Census, blue-collar employees make up about 29% of the labour force. The Australian Community Survey (ACS) states that most (79%) of such a category of workers belong to the age group 20-49 followed by 16% between the age 50-59 and only 4% aging between 60-69. The data further states that the men make up the pre-dominant proportion (77%) of such workforce with only 5% blue-collar workers carrying some university degree.
As the pandemic drove the digital shift faster than expected for the corporate or white-collar employees, the questions on the status of the blue-collar workforce remain unanswered pertaining to the repeated COVID-19 waves and lockdowns. However, with such significant numbers as stated by the ACS, the blue-collar employees contribute to the economy undeniably.
Blue-collar remains the backbone of the economy
In terms of the flexibility quotient, while the corporate workforce can choose the remote or hybrid work model, it is absolutely impossible for blue-collar employees to do so. In a blog, Subhankar Bhattacharya, General Partner Foundamental said, “While COVID-19 might be accelerating existing trends in the white-collar economy, it might also lead to the backbone of our economies — The blue-collar workers powering industries such as trucking & transportation, construction, manufacturing and warehousing — playing an entirely different role in the future.”
The Australian Labour Market Update January 2021 shows that from March to November 2020 employment fell by 137,700. However, the graph showed an improvement with a fall in the unemployment rate of the labour force falling by 0.2% between May to November.
The labour market of Australia comprises a mix of migrants and Australians. The impact was hardest for the migrants who moved to Australia over the last five years as their employment fell by 17.1% between March and May 2020. However, the group also recovered with employment rising sharply by 16.7% between May and November 2020.
Bhattacharya compared the situation with that caused by the Black Death that lasted across Afro-Eurasia from 1346 to 1353. Causing the death of 25 to 50 million people globally, this caused an acute shortage of peasants and urban workers in Europe. He said that the shifting of economic bargaining power in favour of the blue-collar workers was so dramatic that even though the rulers of the time imposed harsh punishments on workers demanding higher wages, there is clear evidence that worker wages and living wages improved considerably after the plague.
As the lockdown has had a hammering effect on this sector, it is expected to see an acute shortage of skills. Analytically observing, it can be said that due to the sudden halt to the onsite functions, many of such employees chose to part ways with their profession eventually causing this shortage.
However, with life getting back to normal and people hitting the streets again, the demand for blue-collar employees is rising, as they (construction workers, drivers, production line employees, vendors, etc) make the backbone of the modernisation of the society. So, a question arises whether history will repeat itself and the blue-collars will enjoy better economic status in the post-pandemic world.