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Why Asians, Especially Women, Are More Likely To Lose Their Job And Struggle To Find A New One

As the latest employment figures begin to reveal the devastating impact of the pandemic, experts warn Asian Australians, particularly women, are expected to be among the hardest hit.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures released on Thursday revealed 600,000 jobs have been lost in the coronavirus shutdown.

Unemployment also jumped one percentage point to 6.2 percent -- but the numbers would have been much worse if not for the fact that many people did not look for work due to policies like JobSeeker and JobKeeper. The real unemployment rate is estimated to be about 9.6 percent.

Image: ABS

In April there were also about 900,000 Australians working fewer hours than usual, and of those, more workers were female.

But some experts are warning the figures don't yet capture that the Aussies most vulnerable to job cuts are culturally diverse workers, particularly women.

"Industries being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 already have people of colour and migrant workers over-represented as employees. They are in highly casualised industries like health, aged care, hospitality and cleaning services, and many before COVID were already earning poverty wages," Director of racial and economic justice advocacy group Democracy in Colour Tim Lo Surdo said.

Lo Surdo says it's a double whammy for Asian workers, given the political and economic climate.

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"We have had a really racialised narrative around coronavirus. We have had months of vilifying Asians, blaming Chinese people for the virus and lots of racist stereotypes. And of course this is going to have an impact on employers when they are recruiting, and [there will also be] a spike in racial abuse in the workplace which we have started to see," he told 10 daily.

Image: Getty Images

A study conducted by Australian National University (ANU) in September last year captured discrimination faced by Australians of Asian descent.

More than 80 percent reported experiencing discrimination, while nearly two-thirds claimed they encounter the same treatment specifically in the workplace.

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One of the study’s co-authors, Jieh-Yung Lo, now the Director of ANU’s Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership, is concerned the recent upsurge of COVID-19 inspired racism may lead to an increase of bias and mistrust of Chinese-Australians and Asian-Australians in areas like recruitment and in the workplace.

The last thing we want to see is COVID-19 being used as an excuse to reduce ethnic and cultural diversity in workplaces. Employers and workplaces have an important role in eliminating racism and discrimination in society," he said.

In the latest study published just last week, ANU researchers found the decline in hours worked in Australia is high for females, but the greatest declines are for those workers born in a non-English speaking country.

“I am interested in further data collection and research analysis to examine whether Asian-Australian workers and women of colour are the hardest hit as it has been indicated in the United States," Lo said.

It's a sentiment and concern echoed by Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis from the Sydney University Business School, who specialises in diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

What is evident is that the double jeopardy of being a culturally diverse woman places you in a more vulnerable position a because you have a higher probability of being located in the secondary labour market," she said.

This includes service industries like hospitality and care, and those that are highly casualised or part-time.

In the US, where employment dropped by more than 25 million over the past two months, women were also hit the hardest.

The drop was most significant for Latina women (13.6 percent), followed by Black women (11 percent drop) and Asian women (10.3 percent).

Unlike the US, which requires medium-to-large employers to invite employees to self-identify their gender and race, the Australian government does not formally collect such data on Aussie workers.

Tim Lo Surdo

"Australia has an unequal society to begin with, and a crisis like COVID-19 exacerbates those inequalities. We have already had a serious problem with representation -- the Human Rights Commission report back in 2018 showed 95 percent of leaders in politics, business and academia are white, and that's obviously not an accident," Lo Surdo said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission says about one quarter of people who lodged racial discrimination complaints in February and March believe they were targeted due to coronavirus.

A third of February's complaints were explicitly related to COVID-19, as were just under a quarter of complaints in March.

Experts fear that the worst is yet to come, as Australians begin to return to workplaces.

"It is something our members are reporting: racial abuse in the street, in the workplace and online, and I imagine it is going to increase as workplaces start to open their offices and people start to come back into physical environments," Lo Surdo said.

Temporary migrants make up a substantial component of the Australian workforce, exceeded only by the United States in the number of temporary visas issued per year. Image: Getty Images

Groutsis believes things could deteriorate further as companies move away from diversity and inclusion policies which are needed to ensure "that we aren't going backwards".

"The disappointing medium-to-long-term effect is that diversity and inclusion policies we know are usually the first to go when the corporate belt buckle is tightened, and I fear that this will have an acutely negative effect on culturally diverse women," she said.

You can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission on its website, free of charge Information is available in 23 languages. 

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au