Wages growth looks likely to have peaked, with advertised salaries ‘treading water’

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Advertised salaries are growing at 4 per cent annually, but that is a step down from the pay increases offered to new hires earlier this year.

With the Reserve Bank wary of the risk of a “price-wage spiral” that would entrench inflation and force even more aggressive interest rate rises to bring it back down, the Seek index offers comfort that was missing from recent official data.

The latest Wage Price Index (WPI) from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed pay rises were higher than expected at 3.1 per cent over the year to September.

While job website Seek’s advertised salary index shows higher pay growth, it only reflects the pay being offered to new hires, which tends to be much more responsive to current economic conditions.

Both recruiters and economists generally agree that switching jobs is usually the path to a bigger pay jump, but it seems that the increases available are not growing as strongly as they were earlier this year.

“Advertised salary growth is treading water, growing by around 0.4 per cent per month for the past several months,” noted Seek’s senior economist Matt Cowgill.

“But this lift in annual growth is more about what was happening in 2021 than what’s happening in 2022.”

Mr Cowgill said the stability in the monthly growth rate for advertised salaries probably indicates they are nearing a peak.

“Although advertised salary growth remains solid, it’s not keeping up with the cost of living. It’s also not continuing to accelerate,” he observed.

“This is bad news for workers in the short-term, but will reassure fiscal and monetary policymakers that we’re not seeing a wage-price spiral that would further push up inflation.”

Deutsche Bank macro strategist Tim Baker agreed that Australia appears set to avoid the kind of  so-called wages breakout that risks entrenching inflation in other economies, such as the US.

“The common refrain that ‘Australia is just lagging – watch out’ is at risk of getting a bit stale,” he wrote in a note.

“After all, it has been over six months since unemployment hit a record low.

“The simple story from the data is that Australia matches peers when it comes to having an historically low jobless rate, but lags almost everyone (by a big margin) on the wages front.”

‘Plentiful labour supply’

Mr Baker posited that a key reason is that more Australians who were not previously looking for work have responded to increased demand for labour by entering the workforce.

“Australia has had more plentiful labour supply than most Anglo peers,” he observed.

“The participation rate across the UK and North America is still well down on pre-COVID levels, while it’s only recently perked up in New Zealand.

“[There is] a solid (negative) relationship across G10 between participation (vs pre-COVID levels) and wage growth.”

Mr Baker suggested another reason why Australian wages growth is less than might be suggested by the historically low unemployment rate is the prevalence of public sector employment due to the pandemic.

“Private sector employers likely have more scope to alter wages in response to demand conditions, whereas public pay settings are stickier,” he said.

That phenomenon is highlighted in Seek’s advertised salaries index, which showed the pay packets being advertised for public servants going backwards over the past quarter (-0.9 per cent) and past year (-1.5 per cent).

Other sectors dominated by the government or predominantly publicly funded such as education and training (1.2 per cent), healthcare and medical (3.2 per cent) and community services (3.3 per cent) also saw below average pay growth over the past year.

The strongest growth in advertised salaries was for trades and services (6.2 per cent), admin and office support (5.6 per cent), design and architecture (5.5 per cent) and manufacturing, transport and logistics (5.4 per cent).

By business reporter Michael Janda (Original ABC Article)