The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) noted in its September board meeting, that the domestic economy had continued to expand over the first half of 2016 at a rate that was broadly in line with expectations. Low interest rates were supporting local consumption and the relatively low dollar was continuing to help the traded sector of the economy. In addition, it was also noted that domestic cost pressures remained subdued, including wages growth which had stabilised at low levels.
The RBA also retained a cautious stance on the labour market. It was noted that “forward-looking indicators had been consistent with only a slight change in the unemployment rate in coming months” and that employers were adopting a more cautious approach to hiring.
This picture of the economy is confirmed by the latest detailed jobs data (released by the ABS), which shows labour demand is slowing with growth skewed towards the creation of part-time services jobs.
In the year to August 2016, more than three quarters of new jobs were part-time and the hospitality sector alone accounted for 39,200 (23%) of the 172,500 new jobs added in the year.
The report from the ABS shows that employment growth is trending lower with 168,500 jobs added to the workforce in the year to August 2016 (1.4% growth), down from the 281,600 jobs created a year earlier (2.4% growth).
The industries hiring the most numbers of new people in the year to August 2016 were hospitality (+39,200), construction (+37,600), public administration (34,800) and health (+28,900). The healthcare sector (including health, welfare and social services) accounts for the largest share (12.8%) of all workers (1.5 million), although its high rate of part time work (45.7% of its workers) means it accounts for a smaller share (10.6%) of all hours worked.
Manufacturing has recorded an encouraging jobs recovery in 2016 after large falls in the second half of 2015. Manufacturers hired an additional 9,300 people in the three months to August. Over the year to August, manufacturing employment was 10,200 higher than a year earlier, at 892,800 (trend). Longer term, manufacturing has lost around 166,000 jobs nationally since it’s most recent peak in February 2008, equivalent to 16% of its 2008 workforce. Less positively, retail trade shed around 22,000 workers in the year to August 2016, after adding 17,500 jobs in the previous year. Steep falls in annual employment were also recorded in the information technology (-14,300), utilities (-13,800) and mining (-13,000) sectors.
Despite the rise in employment over the year to August 2016, total actual hours worked rose by a relatively low 0.7% p.a. over the same period. This reflects the high proportion of employment growth that is being driven by increased part-time positions. Indeed, 81% of the new jobs added over the year to August 2016 were part-time (35 hours or less per week), including 30,600 part time jobs in hospitality, 26,000 in professional services, 22,900 in administrative and support services and 13,500 in health and. A high 31.9% of all workers are now part-time (equal with the previous quarter as the highest proportion on record, and up from 31.2% a year earlier and 28.8% a decade earlier. Actual hours worked per week averaged 33.2 hours in August 2016, down from 33.4 hours a year earlier and 34.6 hours a decade earlier.