New figures show the sharp recovery in employment from last year’s Delta strain lockdowns peaked in the early stages of December, even before the Omicron variant outbreak set in.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said payroll jobs fell 0.5 per cent in the fortnight to December 18, following a 0.3 per cent rise in the previous two weeks.

ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said the first half of December is usually a seasonal peak for jobs each year, followed by a fall around the summer school holidays.

“In 2021, payroll jobs peaked in the week ending December 4, which was around one week earlier than in 2020,” Mr Jarvis said.

“The peak in 2021 was 2.9 per cent higher than in December 2020.”

The ABS will release its full labour report for December on Thursday.

The National Skills Commission also released its final vacancy report for December, confirming its preliminary findings of a 2.5 per cent decline in online job advertisements in the month, although they were still 37.4 per cent higher than a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the monthly Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment index eased just two per cent in January despite the impact of the Omicron outbreak that is causing a further disruption to the economy.

“This is a surprisingly solid result,” Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said.

It compares to the 5.2 per cent drop seen in the first month of the Delta outbreak in NSW, a 6.1 per cent drop heading into Victoria’s “second wave” outbreak in 2020, and the epic 17.7 per cent collapse when the pandemic first hit in early 2020.

It also came in contrast to the weekly confidence survey compiled by the ANZ and Roy Morgan which has seen a sharp drop in the past two weeks.

However, Mr Evans said responses did show a deterioration during the course of the survey between January 10-14, which suggests an increased anxiety as the week progressed.

Consumers’ near-term expectations for the economy showed the biggest fall and they were also not confident about the outlook for their finances over the next 12 months.

“That nervousness would be consistent with the sharp deterioration in the economic outlook but may also reflect shifting expectations for interest rates,” Mr Evans said.

In January, 55 per cent of respondents expected mortgage interest rates to rise over the next 12 months, compared with 41 per cent when asked in August and 36 per cent a year ago.

Even so, a separate survey conducted by employment specialist Robert Half found almost three-quarters of respondents were confident about their growth prospects in 2022 compared to 2021.

While the survey was undertaken in November and December, and prior to Omicron being felt, Robert Half director Nicole Gorton said the past two years of COVID-related disruption have strengthened businesses’ organisational agility and adaptability,

“Australian businesses are generally well prepared to weather the latest COVID outbreak while continuing to pursue their strategic priorities for the year,” she told AAP.

Four out of five of the 300 hiring managers polled, including chief financial officers and chief information officers, intend to hire permanent staff this year, although half expect this to be more challenging than it was prior to the pandemic.

“Even with the gradual return of international migration this year, the shortfall of skilled talent entering the market over the past two years will take at least the same amount of time to recover, if not more,” Ms Gorton said.


Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)