Australia finished 2012 with a jobs market showing more signs of softness as the unemployment rate edged higher to 5.4%.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 0.1% from the revised November rate of 5.3% (which was originally reported as a fall of 0.1% to 5.2%), according to today’s report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. On a trend basis (which attempts to smooth out the bumps in the seasonally adjusted data), the rate was 5.4%.

The ABS said the seasonally adjusted number of people employed fell 5,500 to 11,538,900 in December as full time employment fell 13,800 to 8.112 million. The decrease in employment was driven by lower full-time employment, down 13,800 people to 8,112,500. But part-time employment rose 8,300 to 3.426 million.

The number of people unemployed increased by 16,600 people to 656,400 in December. The participation rate remained steady at 65.1%, for both the seasonally adjusted and the trend basis.

And the seasonally adjusted aggregated work hours fell in December, down 1.1 million hours to 1,623.5 million hours. But on a trend basis, they rose slightly to 1.663 million hours.

The report came after a number of companies cut jobs this week. Yesterday, building products maker Boral said it would cut 700 office jobs, while BlueScope Steel outlined plans to sack 170 workers at its Hastings plant in Victoria. Vodafone also said it would close or rebrand Crazy John’s chain of mobile phone stores by February 20, putting at risk about 400 jobs across Australia.

But a comparison with December 2011 shows that there was growth in the jobs market in 2012: the ABS said the number of people employed rose 1.3% over the year, while the number of people out of work rose 5.9%. The unemployment rate rose to 5.4% in December 2012, from 5.2% for the same month in 2011, not a big move but evidence that on the whole the jobs market was more resilient than many predicted.

The unemployment rate last touched 5.4% in September of last year. This comes despite several headline losses at major companies and especially in the Queensland public service, during the year that the Newman government slashed employment levels.

Peter Fray

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