12 Apr 2013

Australia jobless rate highest in three years

8:59 am on 12 April 2013

Australia's unemployment rate has jumped 5.6% in March, its highest level in more than three years.

The total number of people with jobs fell by more than 36,000 as the unemployment rate hit its highest level since September 2009, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found.

In February the unemployment rate was 5.4%.

The figures partially reversed a surprise surge in February, which saw total employment rise by 71,500, one of the largest monthly rises in the history of the survey, AAP reports.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Australia chief economist Saul Eslake expects the unemployment rate to move higher in the next few months before peaking around 6%.

In fact, he says, the unemployment rate would already have been that high if it hadn't been for a fall in workplace participation during the past two years.

The economy is still creating jobs but not quickly enough to keep up with population growth.

Business groups warned the latest unemployment figures were a sign of worse things to come in the jobs market.

"Amongst many sectors we are seeing hiring restraint or shedding including in construction, retail and manufacturing and there is no signal this is improving," Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief economist Greg Evans said.

"We are concerned the mainstream economy may not be growing sufficiently to keep a lid on an unemployment rate which is trending higher."

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian said the volatility of the employment figures made it difficult to assess the current strength of the jobs market.

Tasmania recorded the biggest rise in unemployment, lifting 0.7% to 7.3%, followed by NSW and Victoria which recorded increases of 0.2% to 5.5% and 5.6% respectively.