Jobs Grinch not keen to leave

FIONA ROTHERHAM

Last updated 05:00 21/12/2012

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OPINION: Most of us are winding up our jobs for the year, looking forward to at least the statutory holidays over the Christmas/New Year break. 

Recruitment experts say their busiest time is early in the New Year when those returning from holiday act on their resolutions to find a new role - for those of us lucky enough to still have a job to come back to.

An Auckland friend of mine got laid off this year, just after her husband had received similar bad news. They faced the prospect of Christmas with two children to support, a mortgage and no income. Thankfully she scored a new job for 2013 but he, along with some 175,000 other Kiwis seeking work, remains jobless.

There have been a slew of companies this year who have restructured and laid staff off in all sorts of sectors from manufacturing to media.

No surprise then that this week's opening of the Government's books revealed lower than expected growth. Economic forecasts have been trimmed back by half a per cent for the next two years.

The other figures that made sobering reading were the forecasts for unemployment. The unemployment rate is sitting at 7.3 per cent. This time four years ago, it was 4.6 per cent.

Numbers can sound bland when you use percentages, but 7.3 per cent represents 175,000 people while 4.6 per cent was 70,000 fewer, at 105,000 people out of work. All of them have a name. 

The Government this week revised next year's forecast unemployment rate up by 1 per cent to 6.9 per cent, 2 per cent higher than the average rate this year. It will take until 2017 to get it closer to 5 per cent, or so the projections say. To put that in perspective, the rate hit a high of 11.2 per cent in September 1991 and a low of 3.5 per cent in December 2007.

Finance Minister Bill English made the fairly facile comment this week that most in New Zealand still had jobs. But he also conceded too many people don't have work, and the labour market was weaker than the Government would like to see it.

What he failed to say was what the Government intended to do about it, driven as it is to meet its promised goal of getting its books back in surplus by 2014/2015.

It's an admirable goal but one critics claim is constraining the economy too much at a time when recovery from the recession is slow and the Christchurch rebuild is still gaining momentum. The rest of the country faces dreary and jobless growth. It's a tricky balancing act for whoever runs the country.

What it would take to get our largely small to medium-sized companies hiring again is the subject of a nationwide survey that accountancy firm Ernst & Young and the Sunday Star Times are undertaking early next year.

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Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg has his own ideas and is critical that current government policy is not sufficiently focused on job creation.

Easing up on the return to budget surplus until the economy starts firing instead of stuttering, channelling government procurement towards local companies so they can build a more solid domestic base before looking to export, and finding a solution to the high exchange rate that's cutting into the profit margins of our nascent and established exporters, are some of his suggestions.

Two big worries are the continuing high number of young people without work and an ongoing drop in those self-employed which the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's quarterly labour report suggests has hit rock bottom.

Santa's more likely to gift alcohol or yet another pair of socks than pay slips, so it will be up to Government to fine-tune economic policy and our SMEs to deliver that job creation next year.

This is my last column as my colleague Maria Slade will be taking over in 2013.

May I wish you and yours a festive Christmas and a New Year filled with opportunity, including the option of paid work.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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