Hours worked continued to fall in December quarter 2023

Hours worked dropped by 0.3 per cent to 5,863 million hours in the December quarter 2023, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Bjorn Jarvis, ABS head of labour statistics, said: “After a couple of years of strong growth, hours worked in December quarter 2023 were 1.0 per cent below the series high in June quarter 2023.”

“Apart from early 2020, around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, December quarter 2023 is the first time we’ve seen a fall in hours worked for two quarters in a row in about a decade – since March quarter 2014.”

“However, it is also important to remember that the last couple of quarters were on the back of particularly strong growth in hours worked through the 2022-23 financial year, at 6.6 per cent. In annual terms, December 2023 quarter was still 2.0 per cent higher than December quarter 2022.”

Filled jobs rose by 0.4 per cent (57,000 jobs) in the December quarter, which was also slower than in recent quarters. The annual increase of 2.8 per cent (428,000 jobs) was noticeably lower than the annual growth of 4.7 per cent (692,000 jobs) at March quarter 2023.

“The slower growth seen in filled jobs, together with the continued reduction in hours worked, suggests some moderation in the Australian labour market since the middle of 2023.”

“The multiple job-holding rate, which climbed to record highs during the pandemic, has also begun to stabilise, and has been between 6.6 and 6.7 per cent over the past year. While it hasn’t continued to increase, it is still around 0.8 percentage points higher than it was immediately before the pandemic,” Mr Jarvis said.

Job vacancies fell a further 5.6 per cent in December quarter 2023, which saw the proportion of total jobs that were vacant fall to 2.4 per cent in, the lowest it had been since September quarter 2021.

“Five consecutive falls in both job vacancies and the proportion of vacant jobs shows an easing in demand for labour from the peaks we saw in September quarter 2022. However, both measures are still well above their pre-pandemic levels, which suggests that the labour market continues to remain relatively tight despite these falls,” Mr Jarvis said.

Annual change in filled jobs and hours worked, and proportion of vacant jobs

Proportion of vacant jobs (%)Hours worked (%)Filled jobs (%)

Hours worked fell in 10 out of 19 industries over the quarter, with the largest drops in Information media and telecommunications (-10.6 per cent) and Accommodation and food services (-8.7 per cent).

“Hours worked in the Accommodation and food services industry were down 5.8 per cent from the same time last year and 10.9 per cent below where they were in December quarter 2019. This was the only industry where hours worked were lower than they were immediately prior to the pandemic.”

Filled jobs grew in 11 out of 19 industries over the quarter, with Professional, scientific and technical services (53,900) and Health care and social assistance (38,500) showing the largest increases. These rises were partially offset by a fall of 91,500 jobs (7.6 per cent) in Accommodation and food services.

“The recent drop in both hours worked and filled jobs in Accommodation and food services followed a strong increase in the September quarter that coincided with large sporting events, including the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The falls in the December quarter also coincided with the lower demand by households for discretionary activities like eating out and going away,” Mr Jarvis said.

Quarterly change in hours worked and filled jobs, by industry

Hours worked (%)Filled jobs (%)
Information media and telecommunications-10.6-8.3
Accommodation and food services-8.7-7.6
Rental, hiring and real estate services-5.3-3.8
Education and training-2.3-0.2
Electricity, gas, water and waste services-2.00.2
Arts and recreation services-1.20.9
Agriculture, forestry and fishing-1.0-0.5
Transport, postal and warehousing-1.00.6
Other services-0.31.7
Wholesale trade0.0-0.1
Retail trade0.9-0.5
Health care and social assistance1.01.7
Financial and insurance services1.40.9
Public administration and safety2.11.3
Administrative and support services3.83.7
Professional, scientific and technical services4.04.4

Lower labour demand was seen across almost all industries in the December quarter 2023. The proportion of vacant jobs fell in 18 of the 19 industries, and 17 saw a fall in the number of job vacancies.

The largest fall in the proportion of vacant jobs was in the Arts and recreation services industry, dropping 0.4 percentage points to 2.1 per cent. This industry also had the largest quarterly change in job vacancies, falling 15.5 per cent. Despite these drops, the proportion of vacant jobs remained well above the 10-year average (1.6 per cent) for this industry.

/ABS Public Release. View in full here.