SYDNEY, Sept 13 Employment in Australia's mining
industry has fallen for the first time in three years, in what
could be an early sign that a major engine of jobs growth is
Government data out on Thursday that covers the three months
to August showed jobs in the mining sector fell by a net 4,600,
following an increase of 25,500 in the three months to May.
Total employment in the industry was still up 44,600 on the
same period last year, but it was the first quarterly drop since
mid-2009 and comes amid news of more layoffs by miners facing
weak prices and high costs.
Any pullback in mining would be a blow to the economy as it
has been a big generator of jobs in recent years. While the
industry's workforce of 270,600 is barely more than 2 percent of
the country's 11.5 million employed, it has been growing
Since early 2007, when Australia's mining boom really got
going, the sector has generated almost 133,000 jobs. That was
beaten only by healthcare and the professional, scientific and
technical services sector.
Crucially the growth in mining had helped offset weakness in
manufacturing, which has shed 65,000 jobs in the same period as
a high local dollar and stiff foreign competition forced much
Miners BHP Billiton, Xstrata Plc and
Fortescue Metals Group's have all announced job cuts in
the past couple of weeks as they battle weak prices, rising
costs and a strong Australian dollar.
This could be a repeat of the job shedding seen during the
global financial crisis in 2008/2009, when mining employment
fell by 27,400 over six months.
At the time, hiring rapidly recovered as massive policy
stimulus in China revived the demand for commodities. China is
Australia's single biggest customer, taking more than a quarter
of its exports, much of it iron ore.
But this time China has been more reluctant to stimulate its
economy, leading to sharp falls in prices for some of
Australia's key commodities, including iron ore and coal.
While Australia's jobless rate is still at a low 5.1
percent, annual employment growth is a very sub-par 0.5 percent.
If it were not for more people leaving the workforce, the
unemployment rate would be nearer 6.0 percent now.
That is a major reason investors think the Reserve Bank of
Australia (RBA) will cut interest rates again before the year is
out. With rates having been held at 3.5 percent since July,
markets are almost fully priced for an easing to 3.25
percent by November.