Canberra: Almost 600,000 Australians lost their jobs in April with thousands of businesses closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, official figures revealed on Thursday.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures showed that the seasonally adjusted employment fell by 594,300 people between March and April, while the unemployment rate rose from 5.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent, reports Xinhua news agency.
The underemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the work force that have jobs but were being underutilized, rose 4.9 per cent to a record-high 13.7 per cent.
The total number of hours worked by Australians fell by 9.2 per cent between March and April.
Approximately 2.7 million people, or 20 per cent of the workforce, either became unemployed or had their hours reduced between March and April, which was much greater than in previous years.
Responding to the figures, Prime Minister Scott Morrison described it as a “tough day for Australia” but said the nation could bounce back.
“Almost 600,000 jobs have been lost, every one of them devastating for those Australians, for their families, for their communities. A very tough day. Terribly shocking, although not unanticipated,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Morrison has announced a three-stage plan to ease Australia’s coronavirus restrictions by July, and more than 850,000 jobs will be restored by stage three, according to the Treasury.
However, Morrison said on Thursday that the challenges in restarting the economy in a safe way should not be underestimated.
He urged people not to underestimate the scale of that task.
“The task we have now is to reopen these businesses to get employees back into their jobs and to do so in a COVID-19 safe way so that it’s sustainable for many years, potentially, if that is what is required.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who said that unemployment was still expected to reach around 10 per cent and without the JobKeeper program it would have hit 15 per cent.
Earlier on Thursday Anthony Albanese, the leader of the Opposition Labor Party, described the figures as “devastating”, saying that unemployment being lower than forecast was not a cause for celebration.
He reiterated his criticism of the JobKeeper scheme, saying that it left casual workers and those in the art and entertainment industries behind.
“That’s a devastating figure, they’re all people with families with a need to put food on the table,” he said. “They’re people who are our friends, our relatives our neighbours.”
As of Thursday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Australia stood at 6,989, with 98 deaths.