Labour market statistics

Date published: 16 June 2020

The labour market statistics were published today by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

Labour market statistics
Labour market statistics

Key points

Confirmed redundancies increased over the year

  • The number of confirmed redundancies (2,663) in the most recent 12 months was 6 per cent higher than in the previous 12 months (2,503). NISRA, acting on behalf of the Department for the Economy, received confirmation that 134 redundancies took place in May 2020.
  • A total of 342 redundancies were proposed in May 2020, a decrease on the previous month’s total of 783; and a further 1,427 were proposed in the current month to 15 June.

NI Claimant Count (Experimental Series) increased over the month

  • In May 2020, the seasonally adjusted number of people on the claimant count was 65,200 (7.0 per cent of the workforce). This represents an increase of 5,700 (9.6 per cent) from the previous month’s revised figure and brings the total above the most recent peak of 64,800 in February 2013.

Employee earnings from PAYE increased over the quarter and the year

  • For the three months to April 2020 median monthly employee earnings were estimated from this source at £1,701; an increase of 0.5 per cent on the previous three months and an increase of 1.9 per cent on the same time last year.

NI unemployment rate decreased over the quarter and year to joint lowest on record         

  • The latest NI seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (the proportion of economically active people aged 16+ who were unemployed) for the period February-April 2020 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 2.3 per cent, the joint lowest rate on record. The unemployment rate decreased over the quarter by 0.1 percentage points (pps) and decreased by 0.8pps over the year. The annual change was statistically significant, i.e. the recorded change exceeded the variability expected from a sample survey of this size and was likely to reflect real change.
  • The NI unemployment rate (2.3 per cent) was below the UK rate (3.9 per cent), the European Union (27) rate (6.6 per cent) for March 2020 and the Republic of Ireland rate (5.4 per cent) for April 2020.

Employment rate decreased over the quarter and economic inactivity increased

  • The proportion of people aged 16 to 64 in work (the employment rate) decreased over the quarter by 0.7pps and increased over the year by 0.3pps to 71.6 per cent. Although recent changes were not statistically significant, the employment rate was significantly above rates in late 2017.
  • The economic inactivity rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were not working and not seeking or available to work) increased over the quarter by 0.8pps and over the year by 0.3pps 26.7 per cent. Although recent changes were not statistically significant, the economic inactivity rate was significantly below rates in 2010.
  • Put into the context of the UK, NI has the lowest employment rate of UK regions and the highest economic inactivity rate of all UK regions.

Private sector jobs increased over the quarter and the year

  • The survey date for the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) was 2nd March 2020. This pre-dates the introduction of any COVID-19 restrictions, and the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market is therefore not fully reflected in these estimates.
  • Estimates from March 2020 indicate that private sector jobs increased over the quarter (0.6 per cent or 3,320 jobs) and over the year (1.0 per cent or 5,540 jobs). Public sector jobs decreased marginally over the quarter and increased over the year. The number of public sector jobs is estimated at 211,090 and is 7.5 per cent below its highest level in September 2009.
  • The total number of employee jobs increased over the quarter (3,120 jobs) and over the year (7,930 jobs) to 783,500; the highest number of jobs on record (in the seasonally adjusted series). Annual growth has been slowing since the highest annual growth in employee jobs to December 2017 (19,170 jobs). Neither the quarterly nor the annual changes in employee jobs were found to be statistically significant.
  • Manufacturing was the only broad industry sector to experience a decrease in employee jobs over the year of 1.4 per cent (-1,220 jobs). This was the first annual decrease in manufacturing employee jobs since June 2013. The services sector, which accounts for 81 per cent of jobs in NI, accounted for the majority of the annual growth (96 per cent).

Data Collection

  • Due to COVID-19 NISRA changed how it collects information from households. From mid-March the face-to-face interviews have been suspended and all interviews are carried out over the phone.
  • There is currently a lower than usual response rate to the labour market surveys. NISRA would like to encourage households, who have been selected, to take part in the surveys and thank those who continue to respond to the household surveys. Responding ensures NISRA can continue to produce reliable statistics on the impact of the pandemic on the labour market.

Commentary

  • The survey date for Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) pre-dates the introduction of any COVID-19 restrictions, and therefore the impact of COVID-19 is not reflected in these estimates. Businesses reported via QES that employee jobs increased over the quarter and the year to a record high of 783,500 jobs in March. Manufacturing was the only broad industry sector to experience a decrease in employee jobs over the year (1.4 per cent); the first annual decrease in manufacturing employee jobs since June 2013. Although there has been annual growth in total jobs since 2013, the rate of annual growth has generally been slowing since the highest rate recorded in December 2017.
  • The Labour Force Survey estimates for February to April 2020 are based on interviews before and during lockdown. Decreases in the employment and unemployment rates and an increase in the economic inactivity rate are shown over the quarter to February to April 2020. The unemployment rate (2.3 per cent) was the joint lowest on record while the employment (71.6 per cent) and economic inactivity rates (26.7 per cent) were higher than one year ago. Although the employment rate remains relatively high and is above the corresponding rate one year ago, approximately 30 per cent of the total employed worked fewer hours than usual, including 12 per cent of the employed who were temporarily away from work. This resulted in a decrease in the number of hours worked on average to 30.2 hours per week (the lowest on record and a decrease of 3.7 hours over the year).
  • More timely indicators relating to May and June show more fully the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market. The claimant count (experimental) increased by 5,700 or 9.6 per cent over the month to May, while 342 redundancies were proposed in May and a further 1,427 were proposed in the current month to 15th June. The number of proposed redundancies since the start of March is now over 3,000, which is greater than the previous nine months.

Notes to editors: 

1. The statistical bulletin and associated tables are available at: NISRA website.

2. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency wishes to thank the participating households for taking part in the Labour Force Survey.

3. The Labour Market Report is a monthly overview of key labour market statistics. This month’s report includes updated figures from the Labour Force Survey, Quarterly Employment Survey, official redundancy data, experimental claimant count data and experimental earnings estimates from HMRC’s PAYE Real Time Information System.

4. The Labour Force Survey estimates for February to April 2020 are based on interviews before and during lockdown. NISRA suspended all face to face household interviews in the middle of March due COVID-19. From April all LFS interviews were conducted by telephone. The resulting individual sample size (16+) for February-April 2020 was 12 per cent lower than the previous quarter and 5 per cent lower than the same quarter last year. This has had a marginal impact on the precision of the estimates (for example employment rate 95 per cent confidence interval increased by 0.1 percentage points).

5. ‘Over the quarter’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period February-April 2020 and the quarter previous to that (i.e. November-January 2020). ‘Over the year’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period February-April 2020 and those of the corresponding quarter one year previously (ie February-April 2019). Changes that are found to be significant in a statistical sense (ie where the estimated change exceeded the variability expected from a sample survey of this size and was likely to reflect real change) will be specifically highlighted.

6. Estimates relating to February-April 2020 should be compared with the estimates for February-April 2019 as this provides a more robust estimate than comparing with the estimates for January-March 2020 as the February and March data are included in both estimates.

7. The official measure of unemployment is from the Labour Force Survey. This measure of unemployment relates to people without a job who were available for work and had either looked for work in the last four weeks or were waiting to start a job. This is the International Labour Organisation definition. Labour Force Survey estimates are subject to sampling error. This means that the exact figure is likely to be contained in a range surrounding the estimate quoted. For example, the unemployment rate is likely to fall within 0.6 per cent of the quoted estimate (i.e. between 1.7 per cent and 2.9 per cent).

8. The claimant count is an administrative data source derived from Jobs and Benefits Offices systems, which records the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits. In March 2018 the NI claimant count measure changed from one based solely on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) to an experimental measure based on JSA claimants and out-of-work Universal Credit (UC) claimants who were claiming principally for the reason of being unemployed. Those claiming unemployment-related benefits (either UC or JSA) may be wholly unemployed and seeking work, or may be employed but with low income and/or low hours, that make them eligible for unemployment-related benefit support. Under UC a broader span of claimants became eligible for unemployment-related benefit than under the previous benefit regime.

9. The recent changes in claimant count can largely be attributed to the increase in the numbers of people becoming unemployed or having their hours reduced resulting in very low earnings below the administrative earnings threshold. There may be some persons, previously not eligible for UC due to partner earnings, now eligible as a result of work allowance increases who would now be included within the count.  We are not able to identify the extent to which each group has contributed to the increase in claimant count.

10. Employee jobs figures are taken from the Quarterly Employment Survey; a survey of public sector organisations and private sector firms. Headline totals for employee jobs are seasonally adjusted. Estimates for industry sub-sections at 2 digit SIC level are not adjusted for seasonality. The QES survey date was the 2 of March 2020 and therefore pre-dates COVID-19 related restrictions.

11. Redundancies are provided by companies under the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (Amended 8 October 2006) whereby they are legally required to notify the Department of (a) redundancies proposed and (b) redundancies confirmed. Companies are legally required to notify the Department of impending redundancies of 20 or more employees. Companies who propose fewer than 20 redundancies are not included in the statistics. As a result, the figures provided are likely to be an underestimate of total job losses, however, it is not possible to quantify the extent of the shortfall.

12. HMRC’s Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI) system is an administrative data source. The PAYE RTI system is the system employers use to take Income Tax and National Insurance contributions before they pay wages to employees. These data relate to employees paid by employers only, and do not include self-employment income.

13. Estimates of employee earnings from PAYE are classed as experimental statistics as they are still in their development phase. As a result the data are subject to revisions. The HMRC PAYE covers the whole population rather than a sample of employees or companies. Data are based on where employees live and not the location of their place of work within the UK. Data are seasonally adjusted but not adjusted for inflation.

14. The Labour Market Report will be of interest to policy makers, public bodies, the business community, banks, economic commentators, academics and the general public with an interest in the local economy.

15. The next Labour Market Report will be published on the NISRA website on 16 July 2020

16.Feedback is welcomed and should be addressed to:

Responsible statistician:

Sarah Fyffe, Economic and Labour Market Statistics Branch (ELMS),

sarah.fyffe@nisra.gov.uk or Tel: 028 905 29449

17. For media enquiries, please contact DfE Press Office on 028 9052 9604. Outside office hours, please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.

18. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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