Record number of people in work in Northern Ireland - and 13,500 vacancies still to be filled

Average full-time weekly earnings in Northern Ireland are now £521, an increase of 4.2 per cent over the last year, according to latest government figures
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NORTHERN Ireland’s private sector continues to grow, with thousands more workers now picking up a pay packet every week or month.

In the last year, the private sector increased by 2.6 per cent, or 13,900 jobs, according to the latest set of labour market statistics.

It means that since the middle of 2014, private industry locally as generated a net gain of nearly 100,000 jobs, albeit most coming in low paid/low productivity sectors like accommodation & food services and wholesale & retail trade activities.

But while the employment rate in the north is now at a record high of 70.3 per cent, it is still way below the UK equivalent rate of 75.8 per cent.

On the other side of the coin, unemployment levels are falling too, with just 3.8 per cent of the working age population signing on.

That is below the UK as a whole (4 per cent) and also lower than the Republic of Ireland (5.3 per cent) and European Union (6.7 per cent).

Under half (46.1 per cent) of those unemployed in the north have been out of work for a year or more, which is nearly twice the UK average of 26.1 per cent.

Economic inactivity remains an ongoing problem, though the rate has decreased over the quarter and the last year to 26.8 per cent.

The number of confirmed redundancies (2,575) in the most recent 12 months is 50 per cent higher than in the previous year (1,712), and in January a further 209 lay-offs took place.

The generally tighter labour market has been a headache for local employers for a while, with talent pools drying up, though this appears to be translating into sustained wage increases.

Average full-time weekly earnings in Northern Ireland are now £521 (in the UK as a whole it's £569), which was an increase of 4.2 per cent over the year.

Earnings were highest for those who work in Belfast (£565) and lowest in the Causeway Coast and Glens area at (£431).

In the UK average earnings increased by 3.4 per cent in the year to December, the highest for a decade, outpacing inflation.

Employment increased by 167,000 in the three months to December to 32.6 million, the highest since records began in 1971, while unemployment fell by 14,000 to 1.36 million, some 100,000 lower than a year ago.

Job vacancies increased by 16,000 to a record high of 870,000 (in Northern Ireland the equivalent figure is 13,492).

Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland, welcomed the positive trends in the latest figures, which he said demonstrates that despite the political and economic uncertainty , business owners are continuing to run their firms, employ people and generate wealth.

“But there is much to be done to improve the business landscape, as we have now gone for two years without ministers making decisions, which risks us being left behind on skills, infrastructure and business support.

“These encouraging figures show what the private sector can do for the economy, which underlines the need to ensure it is not carelessly damaged. We should not lose sight of the fact that the local business environment is currently far from ideal.

“Accordingly, the next Northern Ireland budget which is due shortly should continue to protect our SMEs through the continuation of existing rate reliefs, including industrial de-rating and the Small business rate relief scheme, to ensure the economic landscape isn’t damaged further.”

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