NI employment rate back to pre-pandemic levels, but redundancies are on the rise

New data from Nisra shows the north's labour market has largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
New data from Nisra shows the north's labour market has largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels. New data from Nisra shows the north's labour market has largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

THE north’s employment rate has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but the labour market has been hit by a spate of recent redundancies, new data shows.

The rate of employment climbed to 72.4 per cent in the three months to April 2023, according to the latest labour market report from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra).

It’s the highest employment rate recorded by Nisra since late 2019.

The official unemployment rate remained at a near record low of 2.4 per cent over the same period, while the claimant count fell by 1.4 per cent between April and May.

The north’s rate of economic inactivity has also fallen to 25.8 per cent, the lowest rate since mid-2019.

Meanwhile, the total number of weekly hours worked in Northern Ireland was estimated at 29 million hours in the three months to April, a rise of 4.5 per cent on the previous quarter and the highest estimate since late 2019.

But there are some signs the labour market here could be slowing down.

The total number of people on company payrolls, recorded by HMRC, remained static at just over 788,000 in May.

There was also a sharp rise in planned job cuts by employers last month.

Nisra recorded 610 proposed redundancies in May, the highest monthly figure since July 2021. It follows last month’s announcement by call centre firm Firstsource Solutions on its plans to cut 500 jobs, mostly in Northern Ireland.

Seagate is also reportedly shedding more than 100 jobs in Derry, while Newry’s Norbrook announced plans to cut 180 jobs in early May.

Ulster Bank is also set to make around 250 people redundant in the north this year due to its withdrawal from the market in the Republic. The lender’s parent NatWest employs a significant number of staff in Northern Ireland to service the Ulster Bank business across the border.

Nisra’s latest report recorded 140 confirmed redundancies here last month, taking the three-month total to 450 job losses.

Employers here are only required to notify the Department for the Economy when planning to cut at least 20 jobs.

Meanwhile, payroll data sourced from HMRC show the average monthly earnings in the north fell marginally between April and May.

The median monthly pay among PAYE workers stood at £2,054 last month, a decrease of £4 (0.2 per cent) from April.

The average pay is still around 5.5 per cent up over the year, but that’s well below the rate of inflation in the UK over the same period.

Nisra has also published details from its quarterly employment survey (QES). A separate measure to the HMRC data, it estimated there were 818,840 employee jobs in the north in March 2023.

That marked an increase of 0.6 per cent over the quarter and 2.9 per cent over the year. Nisra described the growth as “statistically significant”.