A war of words has broken out over job figures which saw an unusually large drop of 0.4 per cent in unemployment.
The latest Household Labour Force Survey shows unemployment fell to 6.9 per cent in the last three months of 2012. Around 163,000 people are without jobs.
In Nelson, Tasman, Marlborough and the West Coast, the unemployment rate is 5.8 per cent, having risen from 4.7 per cent last June and 4.5 per cent last September. It is also up on last December, when it was 4.9 per cent.
Nationally, the number of people working or looking for jobs also recorded its biggest drop since the survey began. This means more than 30,000 people have left the workforce in the past three months.
The Labour Party says this is because people have given up searching for work in a "stagnant" economy. "National's hands-off policies are forcing Kiwis to opt out of looking for work or head to Australia," finance spokesman David Parker said.
He said 17,000 jobs were lost from the decline in manufacturing industries in 2012.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the slight fall in unemployment from record levels was "little to get excited about".
Relative to the rest of the OECD, our economy was performing poorly, and manufacturers were "closing up shop" because of the high New Zealand dollar, he said.
The Government has called the survey's figures "volatile".
Employment Minister Steven Joyce said the December quarter survey "reflects the ongoing impact of tough economic times globally". But he said it also demonstrated "the volatility of the quarterly employment data, which continues to move around".
The previous survey might have rated unemployment and participation too high.
Mr Joyce argued that New Zealand's employment and participation rates were higher than Australia's. He said most OECD countries had an average unemployment rate of 8 per cent.
Some economists are questioning if the survey is overly pessimistic.
BNZ economist Stephen Toplis said other data showed that the economy was in a better state and had created jobs. "Business intentions are quite strong, and that would be inconsistent with an exceptionally weak labour market."
Consumers were not lacking confidence, he said. "And they would be if they were losing jobs hand over fist. The housing market's doing OK."
Analysts from Barclays said it was hard to square the labour market numbers with other economic indicators.
"We had actually thought that the participation rate may have been pushed up a little by tighter work requirements for the government's Domestic Purposes Benefit," they said.
Deutsche Bank said the survey "posed more questions than it answered". However, "we think the bottom line is that the sogginess in the economy through the middle part of last year may well justify at least some of the weakness suggested by the [survey]".
Unions suggested that a drop in part-time work could be leading more people to leave the workforce. FIRST Union general secretary Robert Reid said any economic recovery since the global financial crisis hit had been "jobless".
A fall in part-time work was a particular concern for retail workers, he said. "Every shop we speak with has workers who are seeking more hours, because their current hours do not provide enough income to live on." Fairfax NZ
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