Job vacancies on the slide

AUSTRALIA'S supply of vacant jobs is dwindling, making it harder to find work than it has been in years.

New results from the only comprehensive national survey of vacancies show they have fallen 8 per cent in the past year, undoing most of the gains since the global financial crisis.

Australia had only 166,000 vacant jobs in November, down from 193,000 two years earlier. More than 600,000 Australians were looking for work.

The most dramatic slide has been in public sector vacancies. There were just 12,300 government or semi-government jobs on offer in November, down from 17,500 a year earlier.

In the public service capital of Canberra, the Bureau of Statistics found 800 vacant jobs, the least since the early years of the Howard government in 1998.

Recently elected state governments have also cut public service employment to long-term lows.

There were only 3100 public vacancies in New South Wales - the weakest at that time of year since 1996.

There were 2900 in Victoria, the weakest since 2003, and just 2100 in Queensland, the weakest since 1999.

Queensland has 29 per cent fewer vacancies than it had a year ago and 65 per cent fewer public service vacancies.

The results suggest the public sector will be closed to many of the graduates who traditionally find work at the beginning of each year, forcing them into the private sector or pushing up unemployment.

Private sector vacancies have fallen 9 per cent in the past year. The biggest slides are in tourism, where there are 9100 fewer jobs on offer; transport, where there are 6800 fewer jobs; and mining and manufacturing, each with 2000 fewer vacancies.

There are fewer manufacturing jobs on offer than at any time in the past decade.

The most recent National Australia Bank business confidence survey, released in December, showed confidence at its weakest since 2009. More businesses planned to cut employment than increase it.

Separately released retail figures show weak spending in the lead-up to Christmas. Spending slipped 0.1 per cent in November to a seasonally adjusted $21.5 billion, the Bureau of Statistics said, disappointing economists who had expected a 0.3 per cent increase.

''There is no good news in either the retail spending or the vacancies data,'' said BT Financial Group chief economist Chris Caton.

''If the consumer is cheered by the interest rate cuts, she's still keeping it to herself.''

The dollar slipped more than one-quarter of a cent to US104.9¢ as financial markets' expectations of a Reserve Bank rate cut in February climbed marginally from 36 per cent to 38 per cent.

The ABS job vacancy survey is regarded as more reliable than the private sector advertisement surveys because it seeks details of all vacancies, whether or not they are advertised. It shows Tasmania is by far the worst state in which to search for a job, with eight unemployed people competing for each vacant position.

The West Australian and Northern Territory labour markets remain Australia's healthiest, with only 1.5 and 1.3 locals competing for each vacant job.

In Victoria there are 3.9 people competing for each vacant job. In NSW the figure is four and in Queensland it is 4.3.

Australia's unemployment rate has remained in a narrow band of 5 per cent to 5.4 per cent for two years.

The government is forecasting only a small move beyond that band to 5.5 per cent by June. The figures will be updated next week.

With GLENDA KWEK

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