Scientists sense community trust in science is on rise – even as they face job losses and pay freezes amid COVID

Results of a nationwide survey of over 1,000 professional scientists and researchers shows COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the science workforce in Australia.

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In a first snapshot of the impact of the pandemic on scientists’ jobs and wages, a survey by Professional Scientists Australia and Science & Technology Australia found despite the frontline role of scientists in the pandemic, they too had been hit by job losses and wage freezes.

In The Initial Employment Impact Of The Covid-19 Pandemic On Australia’s Science Workforce, scientists reported job losses, pay freezes, changes to job roles, and limitations on their ability to work due to juggling working from home while caring for children.

At the same time, as an indicator of the central role science is playing in Australia’s response to the pandemic, the survey found almost six in 10 scientists said Australians now placed greater value in science and our nation’s professional scientific workforce as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even at that early stage, key findings in the report include:

  • One in 20 scientists in the survey had taken a pay cut, and one in 10 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 scientists surveyed 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.
  • A lack of job security was a key source of stress affecting mental health and well-being.

Science & Technology Australia President Jeremy Brownlie said the report is a timely reminder that whilst Australians rely on our exceptional science sector to respond to crises such as the pandemic, the wellbeing of the science workforce needs to be a stronger priority.

“This report provides vital insight into the vulnerability of scientists and researchers as employees, as the economic impact of COVID-19 places significant strain on universities and research institutes, even as the demand for their skills had grown,” Associate Professor Brownlie said.

“Australia boasts incredible talent in scientific research, and we’ve drawn on this extensively amid COVID-19 – yet the job security and conditions of scientists and researchers are at risk.”

“We need to protect Australia’s scientific workforce so it can play its crucial role in Australia’s recovery from COVID-19 in job creation and economic growth.”

Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert noted the survey ran in May before major job losses started to be announced at universities

“Even at that early stage of the pandemic, almost one in 20 scientists surveyed said they had had their employment terminated, their contract not renewed, or had been stood down without pay,” she said.

“And since this survey was in the field, we’ve seen announcements of thousands more job losses at universities.”

“Now is the time for a stronger investment in the science and technology workforce. This pandemic has highlighted how crucial our scientists are to the safety and security of all Australians.”

Please see the full report, The Initial Employment Impact Of The Covid-19 Pandemic On Australia’s Science Workforce available for download here

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