The COVID-19 pandemic has created economic crises and considerable loss of employment throughout the world. In the Australian context, social distancing restrictions and business closures contributed to a dramatic increase in unemployment, with 780,000 people losing work within weeks of the first COVID-19 outbreaks. Job losses were concentrated in casualised industries such as retail, recreation, arts and culture, hospitality, and accommodation. We examine policy discourses framing independent work, entrepreneurial workers and flexible work relations as essential for ‘economic recovery’, where this means business flexibility, productivity and future economic prosperity. We draw on these framings to show how the equation of flexible work relations and productivity underpins the Australian Government’s response to unemployment caused by the pandemic, as reflected in policy announcements and proposed changes to industrial relations law. In these proposals, constructions of ‘job creation’ and ‘economic recovery’ rationalise industrial relations changes that further empower business, through conflating public and business interest. At the same time, ensuing labour market deregulation and the changing profile of business renders the very idea of ‘jobs’ tendentious.