The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on Australian Workers

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1 The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on Australian Workers Research report prepared for the Australian Workers Union (AWU) January 2009 Andrew Casey AWU National Communications Co-ordinator Mob: Off:

2 Contents 1. Introduction 2. Executive summary 3. Level of concern and personal experiences in the current economic crisis 4. Key impacts on working Australians 5. Attitudes towards key groups for addressing the current economic crisis 6. Expectations for action from the main stakeholder groups 7. Appendix Respondent profiles 2

3 Introduction 3

4 Introduction This report presents the results of a survey among Australia s workers to determine their perceptions, experiences and expectations resulting from the global financial crisis and its effects on the local economy. The survey was undertaken online and conducted between 15 th -19 th January The overall sample size was 1016, segmented and weighted to be nationally representative of Australia s working population by gender, age, location and family status (i.e. single/co-habiting, with kids/without kids). The accuracy of the results at an overall level (n = 1016) is +/-3.1% at the 95% confidence interval. This means, for example, that if the survey returns a result of 50%, there will be a 95% chance that the actual result will be between 46.9% and 53.1%. The following table illustrates the key segments used to analyse the data in this report: Segment Total Sample % of Total All respondents Working families Blue collar workers Inner metropolitan residents Outer metropolitan residents Regional/rural residents Union members Note: All percentage figures in this report are rounded. Accordingly, totals may not add up to 100%. 4

5 Executive Summary 5

6 Key Findings Overview Working Australian s are concerned about the state of the economy and are preparing for the worst by battening down the hatches. Although most people have yet to see any material affects on their own personal lives, resulting from the global financial crisis and looming recession, the majority also expect it s going to get worse before it gets better. Casual and part-time workers are the groups experiencing the greatest levels of material impact on working lives so far, including both reduced working hours and job loss. These affects from the growing economic downturn are leading to higher stress levels and greater caution towards careers and discretionary spending. Almost all working Australians expect to curb their spending levels on a range of products and services, including not only holidays and major purchases but also everyday household expenses. If such spending is reduced significantly enough, across such a widespread area of economic activity, this trend towards a freezing of consumer activity will only accelerate the current crisis, and such cautionary behaviour in the face of a potential recession may unfortunately prove self-fulfilling. Restoring consumer confidence including restoring stability in financial systems and maintaining high levels of job security clearly requires urgent consideration and working Australian s are looking for sound responses from not only Federal and State Governments but also employers and unions alike. However, the Federal Government is seen as pivotal. The following pages highlight the key findings from this survey. 6

7 Levels of concern in the current economic climate are high Australian workers are concerned about the global economic crisis and its effect on the local economy Concern about the state of the economic downturn is widespread across Australia, with around three quarters of working Australians (77%) confirming this sentiment. What is more, around half of Australia s workers (52%) expect conditions to get worse over the next 12 months compared to only 22% who think it will improve. Concern for the future is highest among inner city residents, working families, casual employees and mortgagees, but also year olds. This highlights how concern is being felt in almost all segments of the Australian workforce. Key concerns include reductions in pay and/or working hours, loss of job and increased workloads. Impacts of the downturn are not yet widespread, but are expected to get worse Most workers have not yet experienced any negative impacts on their working lives, despite the widespread fears. This underlines how the economic crisis remains mostly a media event at present, and has not yet significantly affected the lives of most Australians. However, a significant number of workers expect economic conditions to begin having a major impact on them during the course of this year. For example, more than 4 out of 10 workers are concerned that in the next 12 months they will face: Increased workload as a result of reduced staffing levels (45%) Reduced pay (42%), or The loss of their job (41%) Many workers are not confident in their ability to find alternative employment Half of all workers (50%) are not confident they would be able to easily find a similar job with equivalent pay and benefits. Nearly 4 out of 10 workers (39%) are not confident they would be able to easily find another job of any type. 7

8 Workers are cautious, stress levels are rising and spending is set to reduce further Casual, and part-time workers have experienced the greatest negative impact so far The greatest material affect on workers has been mostly felt by casual and part-time employees in the past 6 months. Part-time casuals for example are 4-times more likely to have suffered a job loss than full-time permanent employees, (8% compared to 2%). The greatest single impact has been on working hours, with 26% of part-time casuals and 18% of full-time casuals having experienced forced reductions in working hours. This compares to just 12% of all workers as a whole and just 7% of full-time permanent employees. However, full-time permanent employees have also been impacted, with 27% of this group citing increased workloads as a result of reduced staffing levels. Australian workers are feeling more stressed and preparing for the worst There has been a significant impact on the levels of caution being shown by Australian workers, with 65% citing they are now more likely to remain with their current employer than look for another job. Almost half of the respondents also cite rising stress levels, either personally (45%) or within their immediate families (46%), or both. This is particularly evident among inner-city residents and two-parent families. Consumer spending is set to fall further The most significant short-term impact of the economic downturn is likely to be reduced discretionary spending, with around three quarters of respondents likely to reduce spending on major purchases (77%), eating out (72%), Entertainment (71%), and holidays (70%). Perhaps the most worrying trend is that more than half of all workers (57%) expect to cut back on everyday household expenses. Working families (single and double-parent) are the groups most likely to reduce spending overall, particularly when compared with workers without children. 8

9 The Government, Employers and Unions are all seen as important Confidence levels among workers for the key stakeholder groups are mixed The Federal Government and unions are seen as the most important stakeholders to address the economic crisis and protect workers interests. However, most people are still not confident that these groups will be able to protect the interests of workers in the current financial environment. Only 36% of respondents are confident that the Government will protect the interests of workers and 34% are confident that unions will do the same. Conversely, workers mostly remain skeptical about the attitudes and intentions of employers, especially with regard to divided loyalties between employees and shareholders. Two thirds of workers (66%) believe employers are too concerned about the interests of shareholders and profits, while over half (55%) believe employers are too quick to sack people in economic downturns. However, employers are also considered an important group when it comes to addressing working conditions. This perhaps underlines the accepted understanding among most workers that no single group dominates work relations, and that the current crisis is going to require an integrated response from all stakeholders. Unions are considered more important in the current climate Around 4 out of 10 respondents (39%) agree than unions are more important due to the global financial crisis, with only 25% disagreeing with this proposition. There is also general agreement that unions have played a part in preventing job losses among full-time employees, compared to the more widespread job cuts in the casual and part-time workforce. Around 6 out of 10 respondents believe unions have had some influence in this outcome, with 39% believing they have been quite important or very important. 9

10 Workers see the Government s role as pivotal Workers are happy with the Federal Government s handling of the economic crisis so far Workers are most likely to think that the Federal Government s actions to the global financial crisis has been good (45%), including 7% who think that the Government s response has been very good. In contrast only 16% of respondents think that the Government s response to the crisis has been bad. Workers want the Government to encourage employers to retain staff Most workers are looking to the Federal Government to show leadership to address the crisis. There is a particular expectation for the Government to continue strong funding to protect jobs, but also a keen desire to see policies that deter employers from laying off workers. Paying employers incentives to keep workers employed was seen as the most important specific action that the Government could take (39% thought it was the most important action) Providing incentives for workers to retrain and improving job networking opportunities were also seen as important actions that the Government could take. Most workers are in favor of the Government funding projects and initiatives to weather the economic downturn There is overwhelming support for the Government to support the economy through a stimulatory spending package. In particular workers want the Government to encourage buying Australian-made products (80%), fund infrastructure projects (78%) and retrain workers at risk of losing their jobs(73%). Most workers (59%) also agree that the Government should spend to stimulate the economy even if it means running a budget deficit. The Government s recent family bonus has flowed into the economy There is strong evidence that the Government s first economic stimulus initiative has mostly flowed into the economy, with 61% of respondents that received the additional family bonus last December stating they have spent all or most of it. 10

11 Level of concern and personal experiences in the current economic crisis 11

12 Workers are concerned about the state of the economy All respondents Around three quarters of respondents (77%) are concerned about the state of the Australian economy, and this result is reasonably consistent across all sub segments. Although only 20% are very concerned, more than half (56%) are at least concerned at some level. Qu 14. How concerned are you about the current state of the Australian economy? 12

13 Workers are most likely to think the economy will get worse All respondents Around half of all respondents (52%) also feel the economy will only deteriorate this year, and again this result is reasonably consistent across all sub segments. Only one in five respondents (22%) think it will improve. Qu 15. Over the next 12 months do you think the Australian economy will..? 13

14 Impacts on workers in the past 6 months All respondents Nearly half of respondents (42%) have experienced at least one of the listed negative impacts in the last 6 months. However, the majority (58%) have experienced no direct negative impact, despite the high levels of concern about the state of the economy. Increased workload as a result of reduced staffing levels (affected 22% of respondents) is the most common impact in the last 6 months. Qu 16. Which, if any, of the following have happened to you in the last 6 months? (multiple responses) 14

15 Greater impacts on casual/part-time workers in the past 6 months Key segments In almost all of the listed negative impacts measured, considerably more casual and part-time workers have experienced these effects in the last 6 months, when compared with their full-time permanent colleagues. Not surprisingly, the greatest difference is in the levels of workers experiencing forced reductions in working hours, where 18-26% of casuals/part-timers have experienced this compared to just 7% of full-time permanents. There is also a significant difference in levels of job loss experienced, with 4-times as many part-time casuals than full-time permanents having lost a job. Qu 16. Which, if any, of the following have happened to you in the last 6 months? (multiple responses) 15

16 Greater impacts on other segments in the past 6 months Key segments The one effect where full-time permanent workers are experiencing greater impact is with increased workloads, with 9-18% of casuals/part-timers having experienced this compared to 27% of full-time permanents. Other notable segments experiencing greater impacts are union members and current mortgagees. More union members (29%) have seen workloads increase than non-union employees (20%), and more current mortgagees (13%) have experienced some mortgage difficulty compared to other homeownership classes. Qu 16. Which, if any, of the following have happened to you in the last 6 months? (multiple responses) 16

17 Expected impacts on workers in the next 12 months All respondents There are significant levels of concern about negative impacts arising during the next 12 months, particularly around increased workloads (45%), reduced pay (42%) and loss of job (41%). Worries about job loss show the highest levels of very concerned (17%). Qu 17. How concerned are you that any of the following may happen to you in the next 12 months? (multiple responses) 17

18 Casual workers are most worried about impacts in the next 12 months Key segments Casual workers (particularly full-time casuals) are most concerned about negative impacts arising during the next 12 months, particularly around unwanted reduction in working hours, reduced pay and loss of job. Full-time permanent workers are most concerned about increased workload (potentially due to a reduction in the use of casual labor) Qu 17. How concerned are you that any of the following may happen to you in the next 12 months? (multiple responses) 18

19 Other segments who are particularly concerned about the impacts on them personally Key segments Inner-city residents and year old workers show the highest levels of concern about negative impacts arising during the next 12 months, particularly around unwanted reduction in working hours and loss of job. Current mortgagees and working families are especially concerned about meeting mortgage payments during the next year. Qu 17. How concerned are you that any of the following may happen to you in the next 12 months? (multiple responses) 19

20 Many workers are not confident that they would be able to find alternative employment All respondents Half of all workers (50%) are not confident they would be able easily to find a similar job with equivalent pay and benefits. Nearly 4 out of 10 workers (39%) are not confident they would be able to easily find another job of any type. Qu 18. If you were to lose your job today, how confident are you that you would be able to..? 20

21 The expected crisis is mostly someone else s problem All respondents Most workers think that the economic crisis will affect them personally (83%, although most believe it will only have a slight affect (53%) However, most workers think it will have an even larger affect on others. For example nearly all respondents (86%) believe there will be a large or very large affect on people overseas and 78% believe there will be a large or very large affect on other people in Australia. These results are consistent with the overall findings of this research: Australians are generally concerned with the state of the economic downturn, but have yet to experience any major long-term impacts on their own lives, and remain mostly confident they will escape the worst of it. Qu 21. Overall, how much of a negative affect do you think the global economic crisis will have on..? 21

22 Key impacts on working Australians 22

23 Levels of sentiment in the current economic climate All respondents Australian workers have mainly become very cautious in the current economic climate, with 65% agreeing that they are more unlikely to try and change jobs at present. Other key sentiments include rising stress levels personally (45%) and within the family (46%), and a shift to saving more (44%). A significant number of workers (46%) also curbed their spending during the recent Christmas period. Workers are mixed about whether they have the skills to move into other industries if needed. While 40% feel they do have the skills, 36% feel they don t. Qu 20. How much do you agree with the following statements? 23

24 Working families and inner city residents feeling the most stressed Key segments More two-parent working families and inner city residents are currently feeling the strain of the economic crisis. When compared to all respondents as a whole, raised stress and caution levels are more widespread among workers with either one or both of these characteristics. The greatest difference exists in levels of personal stress, with more inner city residents (54%) feeling this, than all respondents as a whole (45%). Qu 20. How much do you agree with the following statements? 24

25 Most workers are planning to cut back on spending All respondents The most significant short-term impact of the economic downturn is likely to be reduced spending, with around three quarters of respondents likely to reduce spending on major purchases (77%), eating out (72%), Entertainment (71%), and holidays (70%). Perhaps the most worrying trend is that more than half of all workers (57%) expect to cut back on everyday household expenses and 42% plan to cut back on regular travel expenses. Qu 19. How likely are you to reduce your spending on the following expenses due to the current economic climate? 25

26 Working families most likely to reduce spending Key segments Working families are the most likely to be reducing spending, particularly when compared with workers without children. For example, 79% of working parents expect to reduce spending on eating out, compared with 68% of working non-parents. Perhaps predictably, the only listed expense where working parents are less likely to reduce spending is on education. Qu 19. How likely are you to reduce your spending on the following expenses due to the current economic climate? 26

27 Attitudes towards key groups for addressing the current economic crisis 27

28 Levels of confidence in key groups to protect workers All respondents Overall, most workers are not confident that any particular group will protect the interests of workers in the current economic environment. The groups that respondents were most confident about are the Federal Government (36%) and unions (34%) Respondents have least confidence that state governments will protect the interests of workers, with 69% of respondents not confident overall. Qu 22. How confident are you the following groups will protect the interests of workers in the current financial environment? 28

29 Unions considered most likely to act to protect workers All respondents Perhaps unsurprisingly, the unions are considered the most likely to act in workers best interests. This is followed by the Federal Government (24%) and employers (17%). Qu 23. Who is most likely to act in the best interests of workers to protect their pay and working conditions? 29

30 The importance of key groups in supporting workers All respondents While unions are considered the most supportive of workers interests, levels of perceived importance for promoting and ensuring fair pay and conditions are evenly shared with the Federal Government and Employers. This perhaps underlines the view among Australia s workers that no single group controls work conditions and that negotiated agreements are mandatory. Qu 24. How important are the following groups in promoting fair pay and conditions for workers? 30

31 Workers have less confidence in employers to show support All respondents Most workers think that employers are too quick to sack people at the first sign of economic trouble (55% agree) and that they are too concerned about shareholders compared to workers (66% agree). However, there is less support for the idea that employers may use the current crisis as an excuse to reduce workers conditions, with 35% of respondents citing this concern. Less than one third of respondents (29%) have been consulted about their employer s future plans and the impact that it will have on their jobs. Qu 25. How much do you agree with the following statements? 31

32 Workers generally agree with the Government s response so far All respondents Most workers (45%) feel that the Federal Government s actions to the global financial crisis have been good, including 7% who think that the Government s response has been very good. In contrast only 16% of respondents think that the Government s response has been bad Qu 26. How would you rate the Federal Government s response to the global financial crisis so far? 32

33 Expectations for action from the main stakeholder groups: Government Unions Employers 33

34 Workers expect the Government to act further and spend more All respondents An overwhelming majority of respondents agree the Government should spend more to address the economic downturn, with 80% supporting initiatives that would encourage buying Australia-made, and 78% supporting increased funding for important infrastructure projects. Interestingly, the majority of workers (59%) agree the Government should fund such initiatives even if it means taking the federal budget into deficit. Qu 27. How much do you agree with the following statements? 34

35 Workers mainly expect the Government to address employers All respondents Most workers would like to see Government action directly target employers in order to promote job retention, with 39% of respondents ranking this as the most important action. This underlines the doubts most workers have that employers will retain employment levels through the downturn, and the clear importance workers place on keeping their jobs. Qu 28. How important are the following actions the Government could take to assist workers in the current economic climate? (rank from 1=most important, to 7=least important) 35

36 Respondents who received the family bonus have mostly spent it All respondents The majority of respondents (61%) who received the Government s first round of economic stimulus have spent all or most of that money already. This would indicate that the desired outcome from the bonus has mostly been achieved, underwriting the potential for other such initiatives to also benefit the economy. Qu 29 and 30: Did you receive the Federal Government s additional family bonus last December? If so, what have you done with this bonus? 36

37 Unions are considered somewhat more important now due to crisis All respondents Respondents are most likely to agree the global financial crisis has made unions more important (39% agree). 35% have no real opinion and 25% disagree. Qu 31. How much do you agree that the global financial crisis has made the unions more important? 37

38 Workers recognize the importance of unions in protecting employment for full-timers All respondents There is less categorical support for the view that unions have been important in protecting full-time workers from retrenchment. While the majority of respondents (61%) have indicated some level of importance, only 12% feel unions have been very important. Qu 32. How important do you think unions have been in maintaining employment levels for full-time employees? 38

39 Appendix Respondent Profiles 39

40 Age and Gender Segment Respondents 18 to to to to % % % % 36 4% Male Female % % Total respondents = 1016 All figures are rounded. Accordingly, total percentages may not equal

41 Area of residence Segment Respondents The inner city of a state capital city % The middle suburbs of a state capital city % The outer suburbs of a state capital city A regional town (with a population of 30,000 or more) % % A rural or regional area (including towns with a population less than 30,000) % Total respondents = 1016 All figures are rounded. Accordingly, total percentages may not equal

42 Family status Segment Respondents Single with dependent children living at home 58 6% Single without dependent children living at home % Married/defacto with dependent children living at home Married/defacto without dependent children living at home % % Other 78 8% Total respondents = 1016 All figures are rounded. Accordingly, total percentages may not equal

43 Home ownership Segment Respondents Own your home and are paying off a mortgage % Own your home but are not paying off a mortgage % Rent your home Other % 63 6% Total respondents = 1016 All figures are rounded. Accordingly, total percentages may not equal

44 Employment status Segment Working full time on a permanent basis Working full time on a casual or contractor basis Working part time on a permanent basis Working part time on a casual or contractor basis Respondents % 74 7% % % Employee Self-employed % % Total respondents = 1016 All figures are rounded. Accordingly, total percentages may not equal

45 Work and Union status Segment Respondents Blue collar White collar Don t know / Can t say % % % Union member Non union member % % Total respondents = 1016 All figures are rounded. Accordingly, total percentages may not equal

46 Personal total gross annual income Segment Respondents $1 - $19,999 $20,000 - $49,999 $50,000 - $79,999 $80,000 - $109,999 $110,000+ Don t know/refused 78 8% % % 90 9% 56 6% % Total respondents = 1016 All figures are rounded. Accordingly, total percentages may not equal

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