Belfast Telegraph

Jobs boom still elusive despite rise in Ulster's workforce

By Margaret Canning

The number of people in work, whether paid or unpaid, has risen in Northern Ireland by nearly 5%, estimates show.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) revealed that there were 803,000 people in employment in Northern Ireland from September to November last year.

That was up 4.6% on the year before and also an increase of 0.5% on the previous quarter.

But the increase might not signal a boom in job creation as the definition of employment includes people who work just a few hours a week, the self-employed, those looking after a family business on an unpaid basis and those on government-supported training schemes.

The most recent quarterly employment survey, also printed in yesterday's monthly labour market bulletin, signals a continued fall in employee jobs, from a peak of 733,130 in the second quarter of 2008 to 698,390 in September last year.

Nisra's figures also show that more people claimed the dole in December - 60,700, up 100 on the previous month. That meant the claimant count rate of 6.9% in December was the second highest among 12 UK regions.

However, the unemployment rate for September to November in the LFS, which is carried out among around 2,500 households, was down to 6.8%.

That was lower than the 7.6% rate for the quarter before and the rate for September to November a year ago, which was 7.8%.

The unemployment rate for Northern Ireland is below the UK average of 8.4%, the EU rate of 9.8% and the Republic's rate of 14.3%.

Independent economist Philip McDonagh predicted the claimant count would go up, thanks to factors such as retail chain failures, last week's announcement of 350 redundancies at Ulster Bank and predictions that more jobs will be shed at other banks.

"There are also many young people who are being forced to emigrate to find work, and they are not being included in the unemployment figures," Mr McDonagh said.

Wilfred Mitchell, policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The harsh reality is that unemployment remains one of the biggest hindrances to economic growth in Northern Ireland and robust action must be taken to rectify this situation."