The jobless rate in Australia remained steady for another month, yet the number of hours worked fell as a result of the Omicron outbreak, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The unemployment rate plateaued at 4.2% in January, continuing the 13-year low seen in December 2021. This reflects earlier forecasts of the Australian economy being on the path to recovery. However, cases of the Omicron variant still forced segments of the population into isolation, and this led to a decrease in the number of hours that workers spent on the job.
Overall, employers in Australia lost 159 million work hours, an 8.8% decline (seasonally adjusted), because of COVID-related disruptions. The states that witnessed the biggest decrease are New South Wales (13.5%) and Victoria (13.2%). Meanwhile, Western Australia recorded an increase of 1.7% in work hours logged.
"Nationally, and in New South Wales and Victoria, the number of people who worked reduced hours because they were sick was around three times the pre-pandemic average for January," said Bjorn Jarvis, who leads the labour statistics department of the ABS.
Brendan Rynne, chief economist at KPMG, said: "The majority of the fall was due to workers working fewer, or no, hours due to illness – almost 1.2 million people had to take time off in January."
Apart from COVID-related medical leave, there was also a "slight increase in the number of people on holiday, relative to normal, with 39.5% of employees having some time off in early January," Rynne said, as quoted in ABC News.