820,000 now in jobs in NI - and they’re earning more

Labour market survey
Close to 820,000 people in Northern Ireland are now setting off for work each day, according to new data (Nemanja Potkonjak/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There are nearly 820,000 people currently earning a wage in Northern Ireland, fresh government data shows.

The latest Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) says the number of employee jobs in the north fell slightly in the final quarter of 2023 after 10 consecutive quarterly increases dating back to June 2021.

Yet despite a dip of 5,050 jobs over the quarter, the number rose by 6,400 jobs (nearly 1%) over 2023, and in December there were an estimated 817,780 employees in jobs across the region.

Over the course of the year more workers got jobs in construction and services, though there was a marginal increase among employees within the manufacturing sector.

Workers in Northern Ireland had a median monthly pay of £2,144 in February, an increase of £8 over the month and £92 over the year, the latest data reveals.

The Department for the Economy confirmed that 60 redundancies occurred in February (firms are legally required to notify the Department of impending redundancies of 20 or more employees), bringing the total number of the last 12 months to 2,430, which was over two and a half times the figure for the previous year (940).

There were also 360 proposed redundancies in February, taking the annual total to 3,920, which was nearly double the previous year (2,180). Not all of these manifest as actual job losses.

The normal monthly jobs market release for Northern Ireland is incomplete this time after an “issue” was identified with some data concerning the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which is used to assess unemployment and employment rates.

The Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (Nisra) said the problem was not with response rates to the survey and that its data collection for the November 2023 to January 2024 period had been unaffected.

It said: “Nisra will publish LFS data for Northern Ireland for the period in question as soon as practicable and will announce a revised publication date as soon as investigations at ONS conclude. It also apologises for any inconvenience this may cause.”

Mark McAllister, director of employment relations services at the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), said: “As we scan the headline indicators, it is important that we look at them through the new lens of the Economy Minister’s vision, with particular focus on ‘good jobs’ and productivity as fundamental drivers of overall living standards.

“Coming in the week after the budget, it would appear that people, as expected, look to see how much money (virtual or otherwise) they will have in their wallets and purses, and with a rise in the national minimum wage imminent all eyes are on earnings.

Mark McAllister, director of employment relations services at the Labour Relations Agency

“In the world of labour relations with many pay deals being negotiated as we speak, including some very significant negotiations in Northern Ireland’s public sector, we are entering a tense time of year when everything else gets superseded by events, fiscal or otherwise.”

In the UK as a whole, wage growth eased back as the unemployment rate ticked up in a sign of a cooling jobs market.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said average regular pay growth, excluding bonuses, fell to 6.1% in the quarter to January, down from 6.2% in the three months to December and marking the slowest growth for more than a year.

When taking Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation into account, real regular wages rose by 2%, which is the highest since the summer of 2019, excluding the pandemic-skewed years.

The ONS said the UK rate of unemployment lifted unexpectedly to 3.9% in the three months to January from 3.8% in the previous three months while vacancies fell by 43,000 quarter on quarter in the three months to February to 908,000 - the 20th drop in a row.

Most economists had expected the jobless rate to remain at 3.8% and for wage growth to remain at 6.2%.