Labour market statistics

Date published: 15 December 2020

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

NISRA publish range of work quality statistics
NISRA publish range of work quality statistics

Over 10,000 redundancies proposed since March

  • 10,720 collective redundancies were proposed in the twelve months to the end of November, more than double the number recorded in the previous twelve months. More than 10,000 were proposed in the nine months since March alone. Record high numbers were recorded in June and July, and this is now translating into confirmed redundancies, with over 3,600 redundancy notifications received in the last five months.
  • During November, 1,370 redundancies were proposed, an increase on the previous month’s total of 820, and 420 redundancies were confirmed, a decrease from the total of 1,240 confirmed in October. A further 340 were proposed in the current month to 11th December.

NI Claimant Count (Experimental Series) remains around 60,000

  • In November 2020, the seasonally adjusted number of people on the claimant count was 59,900 (6.5% of the workforce), which is an increase of 0.8% from the previous month’s revised figure and 6.7% below the recent peak in May. The claimant count is currently at levels previously seen in 2012 and 2013.

Payrolled employees and employee earnings increased over the month to October

  • The number of employees receiving pay through HMRC PAYE in NI in October 2020 was 742,900, an increase of 0.1% over the month and a decrease of 0.7% over the year. The flash estimate for November shows an increase of 0.1% on October’s figure to 743,400.
  • Earnings from the HMRC PAYE indicated that NI employees had a median monthly pay of £1,769 in October 2020, an increase of 0.3% over the month and 5.0% from the same time last year. The flash estimate for November shows no change from October’s figure.

The unemployment rate increased significantly over the quarter and year

  • The latest NI seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (the proportion of economically active people aged 16+ who were unemployed) for the period August-October 2020 was estimated from the Labour Force Survey at 3.9%. The unemployment rate increased over the quarter by 0.9 percentage points (pps) and by 1.6pps over the year. The quarterly and annual changes were 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 proportion of people aged 16 to 64 in work (the employment rate) increased over the quarter by 0.2pps and decreased over the year by 1.8pps to 70.6%. Although recent changes were not statistically significant, the employment rate was significantly above rates in 2017.
  • The economic inactivity rate (the proportion of people aged 16 to 64 who were not working and not seeking or available to work) decreased over the quarter by 0.9pps and increased over the year by 0.6pps to 26.4%. Although recent changes were not statistically significant, the economic inactivity rate was significantly below rates in 2017.
  • Put into the context of the UK, NI had the joint lowest unemployment rate (with the South East), the lowest employment and the highest economic inactivity rate of all the UK regions.

First annual decline in employee jobs since September 2012

  • Estimates from the Quarterly Employment Survey September 2020 indicate that employee jobs decreased over both the quarter (-0.4% or -3,260 jobs) and the year (-0.5% or -4,080 jobs) to 775,020 jobs. The annual decrease was the first annual decline since September 2012. Neither the quarterly nor the annual changes in employee jobs were found to be statistically significant.
  • The annualised growth rate of total employee jobs has fallen every quarter between March 2018 (2.3%) and September 2020 (0.3%).
  • Following the peak in employee jobs in December 2019, there have been three consecutive quarters of decline to September 2020. The quarterly decline in September 2020 consisted of decreases within the manufacturing, services and ‘other’ industry sectors.
  • Both the manufacturing (-3.3% or -2,930 jobs) and services (-0.4% or -2,760 jobs) sectors experienced decreases in employee jobs over the year. The manufacturing sector has experienced five consecutive quarters of decline since the peak in June 2019 (-3.7% or -3,280 jobs since June 2019).
  • The industry sections contributing most to the quarterly decline were wholesale and retail trade (-3,460 jobs) and administrative and support service activities (-1,430 jobs). These were slightly offset by growth over the quarter in education (2,120 jobs) and accommodation and food service activities (550 jobs). Large quarterly decreases in wholesale and retail trade and administrative and support service activities were also seen in the UK as a whole.
  • Following passage of the Housing (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2020, approximately 3,000 employee jobs in Registered Housing Associations that were previously classified as ‘public sector’ have been reclassified to the ‘private’ sector from Q3 2020. Despite this reclassification, private sector jobs decreased over the quarter (-0.4% or -2,410 jobs) and the year (-0.9% or -5,160 jobs). The annual decrease in private sector jobs was the first annual decrease seen in the private sector series since June 2012.
  • Following a period of annual decline in public sector employee jobs between June 2015 and June 2017, there have been consecutive annual increases since September 2017.
  • The survey date for QES for quarter 3 was 7th September 2020, and those furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are included in employee jobs estimates.


  • The latest labour market data show that employment and jobs are below pre-covid levels, while measures of unemployment are higher than pre-covid levels.
  • Labour Force Survey data for the earlier period of August-October shows the unemployment (3.9%) and employment (70.6%) rates increased, and the economic inactivity (26.4%) rate decreased over the quarter. The August-October economic inactivity and unemployment rates are 0.6pps and 1.5pps above their pre-covid Ievel (November to January 2020) and the employment rate is 1.7pps below. The majority of the decrease in employment since the start of the year has been due to decreases in the number of self-employed.
  • Businesses reported a decrease in the number of employee jobs over the quarter to September. This was the third consecutive quarterly decline following the peak in December 2019. The quarterly decline in September 2020 was driven by decreases within the manufacturing, services and ‘other’ industry sectors. The number of employee jobs in September 2020 is 5,140 (0.7%) below the December 2019 total.
  • Over 10,000 collective redundancies have been proposed since the beginning of March with approximately half being proposed in the Manufacturing, and Wholesale and Retail Sectors.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The statistical bulletin and associated tables are available at:
  2. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency wishes to thank the participating households and businesses for taking part in the Labour Force Survey.
  3. Today’s release contains labour market indicators from business surveys, household surveys and administrative data sources. Although the broad concepts are similar across sources, differences in reference periods, definitions and methodology exist which impact the interpretation of the statistics. Of particular note is the ‘location’ of the furloughed in the estimates. Those furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or receiving a grant through the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) are included in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates of employment and not within the LFS unemployment estimates. Similarly, employees on the CJRS are included in the HMRC count of employees paid through payroll, and the Quarterly Employment Survey estimate of employee jobs. In contrast, a proportion of those receiving grants through CJRS and SEISS may be accessing Universal Credit unemployment benefits as a ‘top-up’ payment and are included in the experimental Claimant Count.
  4. 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. This has impacted the composition of the achieved sample. To account for this the weighting methodology has changed and today’s release sees a revision of Labour Force Survey estimates back to January 2020. More detail on the impact of the revisions is available here.
  5. ‘Over the quarter’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period August-October 2020 and the quarter previous to that (i.e. May-July 2020). ‘Over the year’ refer to comparisons between the latest quarterly estimates for the period August-October 2020 and those of the corresponding quarter one year previously (i.e. August-October 2019). Changes that are found to be significant in a statistical sense (i.e. 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 August-October 2020 should be compared with the estimates for May-July as this provides a more robust estimate than comparing with the estimates for July-September 2020 as the August and September 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 0.9% of the quoted estimate (i.e. between 3.0% and 4.8%).
  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 7th September 2020. Those who are furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) are included in employee jobs estimates.
  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 impending redundancies of 20 or more employees. Companies who propose fewer than 20 redundancies are not required to notify the Department, therefore 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 the number of paid employees and 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 26th January 2021.
  16. For media enquiries contact the Department for the Economy Press Office on
  17. 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.
  18. Follow us on Twitter @Economy_NI.
  19. Feedback is welcomed and should be addressed to:

Responsible statistician:

Sarah Fyffe,

Economic & Labour Market Statistics Branch (ELMS), or Tel: 028 905 29449.

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