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Joblessness sees 6-year high

AUSTRALIA'S unemployment rate rose to a six-year high of 5.8 percent in June as companies shed workers despite the government's massive stimulus spending, official figures showed yesterday.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the number of people with jobs fell by 21,400. A small increase in the number of part-time employees overwhelmed losses in full-time employment.

The increase in joblessness was more moderate than economists had predicted. The rate hit 5.8 percent for the first time since October 2003, rising from 5.7 percent in May.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was expected that the global financial crisis would continue to affect Australian jobs but the government was committed to stimulus measures to lessen the impact.

"We still have a long and rocky road ahead of us as a result of the global recession," she said. "Many employers are doing all they can during the difficult days of the global recession to hold onto their work force. Our focus is to keep Australians working."

The government in February passed a A$42 billion (US$32.7 billion) stimulus package that included building thousands of new houses and school rooms, tax breaks for small businesses and delivering cash rebates to most Australians.

The package aims to support 90,000 jobs over two years through a combination of creating new positions and saving existing jobs.

Even with these measures, the federal government has warned that the unemployment rate could rise to 8.5 percent in mid-2011, leaving 1 million people looking for work.

Citigroup senior economist Josh Williamson said the labor force report could have been much worse.

"It's a fairly encouraging result to see that the unemployment rate remains low given where we are in the slowdown compared to previous contractions in economic activity," Williamson said.


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