Australian employment suffers setback from second virus wave

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian employment fell 1.1% between mid-June and mid-July, weekly data showed on Tuesday, with the biggest loss coming from the southeastern state of Victoria, which is grappling with a fresh wave of coronavirus infections.

FILE PHOTO: People are seen on the ground floor of an office building amidst the easing of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in the Central Business District of Sydney, Australia, June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said total payroll jobs decreased 2.2% in Victoria alone as additional COVID-19 restrictions were re-introduced following an “alarming” rise in cases.

The state reported 384 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, on top of a record 532 the previous day.

Tuesday’s release is the first official data on the hit from the second wave on Australia’s A$2 trillion economy, with economists predicting further job shedding in coming weeks.

The data is “consistent with our expectations of some setback to the labour market recovery and...we fear a return to a negative employment print this month and possibly August as well,” said RBC economist Su-lin Ong. “Our preliminary forecast is -50,000.”

The release, an experimental series, differs from official employment data and is based on wage payment figures from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

Australia had seen a surge in job growth in the past couple of months as authorities largely managed to control the spread of the virus and began re-opening the economy. That helped recoup around 35% of payroll jobs lost due the coronavirus, Tuesday’s figures showed.

There had been around 12.3 million people counted as employed in June, according to official employment statistics, down sharply from just over 13 million in early March before the lockdowns kicked in.

The jobless rate, which had then been steady at 5.2%, has since jumped to 7.4% in June.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has responded by slashing its cash rate to a record low 0.25% in an emergency meeting in March and launching an “unlimited” bond buying programme.

It has pledged to keep interest rates at these levels till progress is made in achieving its employment and inflation goals.

Data on Wednesday is likely to show the largest decline ever in Australian consumer prices in the second quarter, with the consumer price index (CPI) expected to clock its first negative reading since 1998.

Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Sam Holmes