A record 3.7 million Australian employees cut their work hours in January, as restrictions eased and interstate travel reopened

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  • More Australians took holidays, annual leave, flextime, or long service leave in January 2021 than they have in the last five years, according to a report from the ABS.
  • 3.7 million workers cut their hours considerably.
  • Following disruptions to leave and travel plans in 2020, the numbers point to a buildup of accrued leave coming into 2021.
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A record number of Australians took annual leave, holidays, flextime, or long service leave in January, according to a new report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Over 3.7 million people reduced their regular working hours, a considerably higher figure than in previous years.

42% of people who generally work 35 hours or more in December worked either less than 35 hours or zero hours in January.

There is generally a dip in hours worked in January, as many people take annual leave over the Australian summer, which also coincides with school holidays.

However this year’s numbers led to the unusual combination of a rise in seasonally adjusted employment and a large fall in seasonally adjusted hours worked.

‘Given the extent of disruption during 2020, including to people’s leave plans, it is not surprising that more than the usual amount of leave was taken in the Christmas-New Year holiday period,’ the report states.

The increase occurred amid the progressive relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions by federal and state governments, along with the announcement that Australia’s vaccination program would kick-off in early 2021.

The first Australians received the COVID-19 vaccine last month February, with aged care residents, nurses and doctors, disabled support residents and hotel quarantine workers given the jab in Castle Hill, New South Wales.

The shift to remote work may also be behind the reduction in working hours logged, with almost three-quarters of Australians reporting they suffered burnout last year.

And the average office worker’s overtime nearly doubled from 236 hours in 2019 to 436 hours, according to a global study of more than 13,000 office workers.

While many workers took a well-deserved break, the report also shows a considerable number of workers opting out of work in the new year for financial reasons.

The report says a further 520,000 people worked fewer than their usual hours (or no hours) for economic reasons in January 2021, an increase of almost 60,000 since December.