Friday, February 17, 2012
Yesterday's bleak jobs data came as Qantas foreshadowed hundreds of job cuts and the possible closure of one of its two heavy maintenance depots at Avalon and Tullamarine, which together employ more than 1000 people.
Late yesterday Caltex flagged that it might shut its two Australian oil refineries in Sydney and Brisbane - raising questions about the future of Victoria's two refineries, the Shell refinery at Corio and the Exxon-Mobil plant at Altona.
Caltex Australia chief executive Julian Segal said the future of its two ageing refineries has been put under review because of the high Australian dollar and competition from newer, large-scale, more efficient refineries in Asia.
Caltex has written down the value of the two refineries from $1.8 billion to $340 million. Just seven refineries are now left in Australia, all of them relatively old.
Yesterday's announcements add to a recent wave of job cuts at major companies across Australia's banking, retail and manufacturing sectors.
Nationally, the jobs figures have gone back to a zig-zag pattern. On a seasonally adjusted estimate, the Bureau of Statistics says Australia gained 46,000 jobs in January, after losing 41,000 in the previous two months.
Seasonally adjusted, unemployment edged down to 5.1 per cent, but the bureau's figures show the big movement has been of people leaving the workforce altogether. In the past year, while unemployment has risen only marginally, the workforce participation rate has fallen by the equivalent of over 100,000 workers.
Roughly half of those lost workers were in Victoria, where the seasonally adjusted figures reported another 15,000 full-time jobs lost in January. Total employment, however, remained unchanged, with part-time jobs growing, and Victoria too had an unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent.
On its preferred trend measure, the bureau estimates that the entire Australian economy has added just 22,000 jobs in the past year, mostly part-time. It is a dramatic contrast with the 344,000 jobs added over the
previous year. The bureau figures show a tale of two economies. In the past year Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have added 44,000 full-time jobs, while the south-eastern states have lost 38,000 full-time jobs.
Most of those job losses have been in Victoria. After being one of the stronger states over the past decade, Victoria is now clearly the epicentre of job losses, losing about 1000 full-time jobs a week, partly offset by about 500 new part-time jobs.
Federal government ministers hailed January's jobs growth as demonstrating that Australia's economy is fundamentally in good shape. ''There are more Australians in work today than at any stage in Australia's history,'' Employment Minister Bill Shorten told journalists.
The opposition again focused its attack on the carbon tax, saying it would cost more jobs when it took effect in July.
Premier Ted Baillieu said Victoria was experiencing a shift from full-time to part-time employment, but expressed concern that much of it might be reflecting under-employment rather than deliberate choices by workers.
Economists warned that there was worse to come, and in a wide range of industries, as the high dollar sends jobs overseas and diminished spending growth contracts jobs at home.
''We expect that over the next few months NSW and Victoria will bear the brunt of the employment correction under way in retail, manufacturing, construction, business services and finance,'' said Westpac chief economist Bill Evans. ''As such, we see the labour market weakening further in these states.''
New Reserve Bank deputy governor Philip Lowe threw in a cheerier note in his first speech, declaring he saw ''a chain that links the investment boom in the Pilbara and in Queensland to the increase in spending at cafes and restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney''.