Labour costs up 0.5% in Dec quarter as Canterbury rebuild picks up pace

New Zealand labour costs rose in line with expectations in the final three months of 2012 as the gathering pace of Canterbury's reconstruction effort saw the building and construction sector underpin gains.

Private sector salary and ordinary time wages rose 0.5 percent in the three months ended December 31, as expected, and maintaining the same pace of growth from a quarter earlier, Statistics New Zealand's labour cost index shows.

Public sector wages rose 0.5 percent in the quarter and, including overtime, all salary and wages advanced a quarterly 0.6 percent.

Private sector wages rose at an annual pace of 1.9 percent, and all salary and wages gained 2 percent in 2012.

Canterbury's construction sector led those gains, rising 1.6 percent in the quarter and up 3.9 percent from the same quarter a year earlier. Construction wages across the rest of the country rose a quarterly 0.8 percent and an annual 2.3 percent.

Today's release comes ahead of the household labour force survey on Thursday, which is expected to show the unemployment rate declined 0.2 of a percentage point to 7.1 percent in the December quarter.

The labour market has confounded forecasters, with the headline unemployment rate remaining unexpectedly high even as the economy shows tentative signs of improving.

Treasury yesterday said it expects gradual employment growth this year as the Canterbury rebuild gathers momentum and improving business confidence leads to actual hiring.

Statistics NZ's quarterly employment survey, released separately, showed a surprise fall in private sector of 0.4 percent to $25.17 an hour in the quarter. Economists surveyed by Reuters were picking 0.4 percent growth.

The QES showed a 0.4 percent increase in total filled jobs to 1.72 million and a similar gain in full-time equivalent employees to 1.36 million.

Manufacturing, a sector which has been under scrutiny as local plants shut up shop in the face of a strong New Zealand dollar, showed a 0.8 percent gain in total filled jobs to 166,900 and a similar gain in FTEs to 186,700.

Still, the sector has lost 0.2 percent FTEs in the year and 1 percent of total filled jobs.

Construction FTEs climbed 2.6 percent in the quarter to 97,200 with total filled jobs up 2.6 percent to 122,800, while public administration and safety FTEs advanced 5.3 percent to 87,300, with total filled jobs up 4.5 percent at 94,400.

Forestry and mining reported the biggest quarterly decline in jobs, with FTEs falling 4.3 percent to 11,000 and total filled jobs down 5.4 percent to 12,300. Information, media and telecommunications FTEs shrank 3.9 percent in the period to 27,200 and total filled jobs in the sector dropped 4 percent to 30,900.

Total weekly paid hours rose 0.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted 52.1 million in the quarter, turning around a 0.3 percent contraction in the September period. Average weekly paid hours for FTEs' ordinary time shrank 0.2 percent to 37.5 hours.

(BusinessDesk)

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