Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Much better news on UK labour productivity offers hope for better pay prospects in 2018

The latest official jobs and productivity figures, published earlier this morning by the Office for National Statistics, suggest that UK employers are finally having to respond to much tighter labour market conditions as the economy edges closer to full employment. 

Although the economy continued to grow, there was no net hiring in the third quarter of the year (total employment fell marginally, by 14,000), with businesses cutting full-time jobs and switching to increased use of part-time workers. The combination of an overall fall in total hours worked (down 0.5%) and continued growth in output saw a very welcome quarterly surge in output per hour of 0.9% - the fastest rate of growth in labour productivity for six years. For the time being there is still no sign of a corresponding improvement in pay, with growth in average weekly earnings steady at 2.2% and real earnings still falling against a backdrop of high consumer price inflation. However, the likelihood of sustained improvement in productivity as employers continue to adjust to tighter labour market conditions offers hope of better pay prospects in the coming years albeit we are unlikely to enjoy job growth at the rapid pace seen since 2012.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Women drive latest rise in UK employment as pay growth disappoints yet again

The UK jobs boom continues according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures - mostly covering the three months to August 2017 - published earlier this morning  

Job growth in the latest quarter is driven mostly by women who account for more than 8 in 10 of the total net increase in employment of 94,000 (taking the overall employment rate to 75.1%) . Almost all these additional women in work are in part-time jobs, split fairly evenly between part-time female employees (up 42,000) and part-time female self-employed (up 45,000). Men by contrast have seen a rise of 29,000 in the number working full-time offset by a fall of 13,000 working part-time. However, although this overall degree and make-up of employment growth is good for the unemployment figures – with the unemployment rate again at a 42-year low of 4.3% – it is failing to exert leverage on growth in average weekly earnings (excluding bonuses) in either cash terms (running at an annual growth rate of 2.1%) or real terms (down 0.4% on the year). While the headline jobless and price inflation rates imply the economy needs a small interest rate rise, the pay growth figures say ‘not quite yet’.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mirror image of recent job gains and losses could signal future pattern for UK labour market

The UK Office for National Statistics has just published its monthly labour market report, mostly covering the three months to July 2017

The latest figures once again show a healthy rise in employment (up 181,000 in the most recent quarter, to a rate of 75.3%), a further fall of 75,000 in the number of people unemployed (down to a rate of 4.3%) and 107,000 fewer economically inactive (down to 21.2%), yet still no sign of any sustained upward momentum in the cash value of average weekly earnings resulting in a 0.4% fall in real wages. This remains a jobs boom without a feel-good factor.


Although the real wage squeeze caused by the inflationary impact of the fall in the value of the pound is the most obvious symptom of Brexit uncertainty on the labour market, there are signs of a Brexit effect in the recent pattern of job gains and losses. The more competitive exchange rate has given a boost to manufacturing jobs, up 34,000 in the second quarter, but there are signs of weakness in the real estate sector where the number of jobs fell by 34,000. The consequences of the real wage squeeze for consumer spending may also be putting pressure on the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, which shed 30,000 jobs in the quarter. This kind of mirror image effect could be an early pointer to a post-Brexit future of winners and losers in the UK job market.   

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Latest official UK Jobs Report tells a good news-bad news story on EU migration and Brexit

For regular readers of the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) monthly release of official labour market statistics, the latest 'Jobs Report' published earlier this morning will have a distinctly familiar feel. 

Another record number and proportion of people in work (up 125,000 in the latest quarter to 32.07 million or 75.1%), the unemployment rate down to a 42 year low of 4.4%, combined with anemic average regular weekly nominal wage growth at 2.1% and falling real wages, down 0.5%. The unemployment rate continues to scream tight labour market and near full employment, but pay points to continued slack and poor productivity growth (output per hour worked having fallen by a further 0.1% according to the ONS’ latest flash estimate). The UK jobs market is thus performing very well but still far from ‘strong’ in a meaningful sense of the word.

In terms of detail, the continued rise in the employment rate of EU nationals working in the UK to 80.8% over the past year is a good news-bad news story. On the one hand, although the inflow of EU migrants has slowed considerably compared with recent years, it indicates that the Brexit vote has not overall deterred migrants from entering the UK to fill job vacancies. But on the other hand it further highlights the dependence of many UK employers on the free movement of EU labour and thus the possible negative consequences of a hard Brexit deal.

Finally, while the annual fall of 20,000 to 883,000 in the number of people on a zero-hours contract in their main jobs leaves the proportion of zero-hours contract workers in total employment unchanged at 2.8%, it now looks as though the proportion peaked last year at 2.9%. It is unclear, however, if this reflects a change in the underlying economic conditions faced by employers or a response to popular pressure on firms to offer staff greater security over hours and incomes.      



Wednesday, 12 July 2017

UK workers experiencing Brexit uncertainty in the shops rather than the jobs market

It's official UK Jobs Report day again, this month's data release from the Office for National Statistics mostly covering the period March to May 2017 

The UK jobs market continues to outperform the wider economy with employment rising (up 175,000 to a record high rate of 74.9%) and unemployment falling (down 64,000 to a 42 year low rate of 4.5%) in the latest quarter, defying the background of slower GDP growth. May also saw a welcome pick-up in average regular weekly pay growth from 1.8% to 2.%.  But what a buoyant labour market giveth, much higher price inflation has more than taketh away, with average real weekly wages falling by 0.5%. 

For the time being therefore any negative effect of Brexit uncertainty on the UK workforce is coming indirectly via the higher prices people are facing in the shops rather than directly in terms of a dampening impact on job opportunities or pay packets. However, the longer the real wage squeeze continues the greater the risk that weaker demand for goods and services will feed through to weaker demand for labour and lead to lower business investment, thereby further reducing the prospect of a productivity led boost to real incomes.      


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

UK pay squeeze starting to feel more like a bite

We knew the UK was entering another prolonged period of falling real wages but the latest official Jobs Report from the Office for National Statistics suggests the squeeze is starting to feel more like a bite. The growth rate of average weekly earnings excluding bonuses slowed to just 1.7% in cash terms in April and fell by 0.6% when adjusted for the corresponding rate of consumer price inflation. The nominal and real figures including bonuses were 2.1% and -0.4% respectively.

What’s remarkable is that pay growth, however measured, is so weak at a time when employment is at joint record rate of 74.8%, unemployment at a 42 year low of 4.6%, and the working age inactivity rate down to 26.5%. 

Moreover the rise in employment in the latest quarter is driven almost entirely by relatively strong growth in full-time jobs for employees on permanent contracts. This, on the face of things, doesn't look like a surge in the so-called gig economy. The total rise of 109,000 in the number of people in work in the three months to April comprised a rise of 196,000 employees working full-time, a fall of 69,000 employees working part-time, a fall of 24,000 full-time self-employed and a rise of 26,000 part-time self-employed. The number of temporary employees fell by 17,000 and the number of part-time workers unable to find a full time job fell by 39,000. All the net employment growth in the first quarter was in the private sector.

However, despite the overall very positive news on jobs the weak and weakening pay figures are the key take-away from today's ONS report. Hard times for people in work and near full employment make strange bedfellows, highlighting the extent to which a de-regulated labour market with an abundance of workers available to fill low wage vacancies has altered the UK jobs landscape.        


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Underlying pay growth slows and average real weekly earnings fall as productivity takes a hit despite 42 year low in UK unemployment rate

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just released its latest monthly jobs report, including data mostly covering the three months to March 2017. This is the last set of official labour market figures to be published before the General Election scheduled  for 8 June.    

Employment is up again by 122,000 (all full time jobs, mostly for employees) to a new record rate of 74.8% while unemployment is down 53,000 to a 42 year low of 4.6%, with job vacancies also at a record level. Yet with labour productivity estimated to have fallen by 0.5% in the first quarter of the year the underlying rate of growth in average weekly earnings (i.e excluding bonuses) has dipped to 2.1%, a real terms fall of 0.2% when adjusted for the corresponding rate of consumer price inflation. 

This is a jobs market that looks better on paper than it feels in the pocket, reflecting a structural shift in the types of work people do and the relative bargaining power between workers and bosses. No wonder workers’ rights, productivity and pay rather than the availability of jobs per se, is a key battleground in the UK General Election campaign.