Record numbers now in work - but quality not quantity matters

A record number of people are now in work in Northern Ireland according to government figures
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A RECORD numbers of people are in work in Northern Ireland, while average earnings are at their highest level for a decade, new figures reveal.

The latest Labour Market Report reveals that 765,880 men and women now have a job, with increases reported in sectors such as construction, manufacturing and services.

Private sector jobs increased over the quarter to a record 559,110, but public sector posts decreased by 9 per cent to 207,290.

Weekly earnings rose by 4.2 per cent to £521 for full-time workers, those this is more than 8 per cent below the UK average of £569 and makes Northern Ireland the fifth lowest of the 12 UK regions.

And the north's jobless rate of 3.9 per cent over the August-October quarter, while up from the record low of 3.1 per cent in the first three months of this year, still remains below that in the UK (4.1 per cent), the Republic (5.4 per cent) and the EU (6.7 per cent).

The figures will be viewed as a boost for families ahead of Christmas as wages rose at their fastest pace in 10 years.

But equally the monthly labour report revealed some deep-rooted problems in the north's economy, with more than half (55 per cent) of those without work being deemed long-term unemployed (they haven't had a job for at least the last year). This compared to 24 per cent in the UK as a whole.

And the number of confirmed redundancies, at 2,643 in the most recent 12 months, is 43 per cent higher than in the previous 12 months (1,848).

Ulster Bank regional chief economist Richard Ramsey says it's important not to get carried away with ‘record high' headlines around available jobs, insisting it's quality not quantity that matters.

He said: "Encouragingly, the rate of overall employment growth has shown no notable signs of slowing, with the annual pace of job creation running at a healthy 2 per cent year on year.

"This is the 10th consecutive quarter of ‘record highs'. Despite a significant reduction in public sector employment, there are now 33,000 more jobs in the local labour market than existed at the pre-recession peak in quarter one of 2008.

"The private sector has been growing continuously for 17 quarters since June 2014. Over that period private industry has generated a gain of 77,000 jobs. Impressive stuff until you consider what has been happening to output, which is still over 3 per cent below where it was a decade ago despite the fact that there are an additional 44,000 jobs contributing to this output.

"Clearly this highlights that Northern Ireland's job machine is producing quantity rather than quality. Almost 40 per cent of the 5,740 job gains over the last year were in accommodation & food services and wholesale & retail trade activities, which are traditionally low paid/low productivity sectors.

"Eight times as many jobs were created in these sectors as compared with new positions in higher productivity (and wage) sectors such as ICT. These are the types of jobs we need more of."

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