The initial employment impact of COVID-19 on the Australian science workforce

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Australia’s economy hard. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates 2.7 million people (around one in five workers in Australia) either lost their job or had their paid work hours fall between March and April 2020.

Australia’s scientists have been on the frontline of our nation’s response to the public health crisis and the global race for a vaccine. Yet they have also faced job losses, cuts to paid work hours, and a vast unpaid workload of caregiving and distance learning supervision for children at home amid school closures. This survey of 1,059 scientists, taken in May 2020, gives further insights into the early picture of the impact of the pandemic on Australia’s scientific workforce.

One in 20 scientists in the survey had taken a pay cut, and one in 10 (10.3%) said their paid work hours had fallen. Around 7 in 10 had been instructed to work from home, and almost one in three said physical distancing and home isolation had limited their work.

One in seven said their work role had changed during the pandemic, and nearly one in four said anxiety/ mental distress caused by the pandemic was affecting their ability to work. One in five said caring for children/home schooling had limited their ability to work. Without extra support, further science job losses are anticipated, as the economic impact of the pandemic on major science employers such as universities and research institutes worsens.

One survey participant told us they fear the loss not only of their job, but also of their home. Many laboratories, fieldwork sites and research centres were shut down in the early stages of the pandemic, with some research trials and projects lost entirely. Other research efforts were set back profoundly with major disruptions and delays.

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