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Australia jobless rate ticks up, full-time work extends recovery

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Australian employment rose moderately in December as full-time jobs increased for a third straight month, though the unemployment rate still ticked up to its highest since June as more people went looking for work.

[SYDNEY] Australian employment rose moderately in December as full-time jobs increased for a third straight month, though the unemployment rate still ticked up to its highest since June as more people went looking for work.

Thursday's data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed employment rose a net 13,500 in December, just topping forecasts of 10,000 and a third month of gains.

The unemployment rate edged up a tenth of a per centage point to 5.8 per cent, though that remains within the tight range that has held for the past year.

One bright spot was that full-time jobs rose another 9,300 on top of November's hefty 38,400 jump, bringing gains made since September to a healthy 95,000.

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That went some way to reversing a shift to part-time work that bedevilled the labour market for much of last year.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has highlighted uncertainty over the labour market as a key concern for 2017. A slowdown in hiring might just be one of the few developments alarming enough to justify another cut in interest rates.

So far, futures markets have all but priced out the chance of another easing and instead imply a one-in-three chance rates might be hiked at the end of the year.

Leading indicators of labour demand are generally positive.

The government's measure of job vacancies has been on the rise, hitting the highest since mid-2001 in the three months to November. Vacancies were up almost 9 per cent on a year earlier at 182,000, with even the mining sector showing signs of life.

Other sectors enjoying jobs growth have been construction, transport, communication, finance education and, notably, healthcare. The latter is now the biggest employer accounting for 13 per cent of Australia's 12 million jobs and is only set to expand as the population ages.

That trend, however, has exacerbated a shift away from full-time work given that almost half of all health jobs are part-time, the biggest share of any sector.

"It is symptomatic of the cost control focus of both the private and public sectors," said Michel Workman, a senior economist at CBA. "It also shows up in the 20-year low in national wages growth of just under 2 per cent a year."

"One of the consequences is the relatively weak household income growth that produces subdued consumer spending growth, especially in parts of retailing."

REUTERS

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