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.