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Workers became more loyal during the pandemic but retrenchments spiked

Workers stuck with their employers more than usual during the coronavirus pandemic but businesses gave the boot to about 390,000 people as outbreaks and lockdowns rocked the economy.

A tranche of new jobs data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday shows 393,500 employees were looking to switch to a better job or wanting a change in workplace during the pandemic. That was far below the pre-pandemic level of 520,400 for the year to February 2020.

More than 400,000 people a year left work for these reasons since 2016 and the count was rising annually before COVID hit the nation.

Fewer workers looked to switch jobs at the height of the pandemic.

Fewer workers looked to switch jobs at the height of the pandemic.

However, retrenchments were falling on an annual basis before coronavirus. In 2016, 321,900 people were given the kick by their employer and this fell to 268,100 in 2020. But in 2021, the number of people being retrenched spiked to 393,100.

The data shows both men and women were less likely to choose to leave their job for family reasons during the pandemic, as more households juggled childcare with work from home commitments. In 2020, more than 145,000 women quit for this reason compared to almost 58,000 men. In 2021 this dropped to about 116,000 women and 34,000 men.

The figures have prompted Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil to urge the federal government to do more for childcare, saying parents should not be locked out of the job market because they cannot afford or access childcare.

“This should not be a barrier to anyone entering the workforce and it is critical that the federal government introduce free universal early childhood education and care,” she said.

The federal government unveiled a $1.7 billion childcare package during the May budget, which kicks in next year and benefits families with multiple children in care. Labor has promised to remove the cap on the childcare subsidy should the party win the next election.

Across the country, 1.81 million people lost their job or quit in 2021, compared to 1.98 million in 2020 and 1.86 million in 2016. There was a sharp decline in those who had left a holiday job to return to studies and those quitting to launch a business and a modest decline in people who quit to retire.

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