UK job vacancies hit record high as Omicron threatens recovery

Job vacancies
The number of job vacancies have continued to rise through the quarter ending September to November, according to the Office for National Satistics. Photo: Reuters

The UK's job vacancies have hit a record high of 1.21 million for the quarter ending November, an increase of 434,500 from its pre-pandemic level, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Record job vacancies were reported in 13 of the 18 industry sectors.

The job market is improving with the total number of jobs in September estimated to be 35.1 million, despite being down by 525,000 from December 2019. The data shows three consecutive quarters of growth helping to reduce the jobs deficit from pre-pandemic levels.

Also, UK employers added 257,000 staff to their payrolls in November, even as the furlough scheme ended.

Darren Morgan, ONS director of economic statistics, said: “With still no sign of the end of the furlough scheme hitting the number of jobs, the total of employees on payroll continued to grow strongly in November, although it could include people recently made redundant but still working out their notice. The number on payroll is now above pre-pandemic levels right across the country.

“Separately, survey findings show much of the recent growth in employment has been among part-timers, who were particularly hard hit at the start of the pandemic.

“While job vacancies continue at record levels, the number is not growing as fast as it did earlier this year.”

Read more: Rising energy costs slow UK recovery

The ONS reported there were 29.4 million employees in the UK in November — up 257,000 on the revised October 2021 level and up 424,000 compared with the February 2020 level.

Young people aged 16 to 24 years have been particularly affected by the pandemic, with the employment rate decreasing and the unemployment and economic inactivity rates increasing by more than for those aged 25 years and over.

Retail jobs in the UK currently stand at 3 million, down 22,000 year on year.

“The UK retail industry saw a decline in the retail workforce in Q3. The fall in jobs reflects the decline in staffing at large city centre retailers, who cut back in response to lower shopper numbers during the pandemic," said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium.

She said the sector is facing cost pressures including pay rises and higher energy and commodity prices, which has resulted in higher prices for consumers.

“Job creation remained strong this autumn, but continuing difficulty hiring, the emergence of Omicron variant and new restrictions will mean a challenging winter for businesses," said Matthew Percival, Confederation of British Industry director of employment.

“The economy should remain as open as is feasibly safe to do so in the coming weeks. With Plan B coming in, the net effect is that demand in some sectors will be suppressed. Those sectors hardest hit must be closely monitored as further targeted support may yet be needed."

Read more: 300,000 small businesses not prepared for new VAT legislation

The Work Foundation, a think tank, meanwhile is calling for more support for workers as Omicron threatens to derail recovery.

“This week employers across the economy are facing renewed uncertainty due to the emergence of the Omicron variant, with the reintroduction of working from home guidance and weakened demand in hospitality in the run up to the usually busy Christmas period," said Ben Harrison, director of Work Foundation.

“Government should make it clear now that it won’t hesitate to introduce further support for employers and workers in affected sectors to safeguard our economic recovery. This should include a targeted reintroduction of the furlough scheme if we see new restrictions that prevent people being able to go to work or dramatically reduce demand.”

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is also calling for support saying the government's Plan B may hit hiring in sectors most exposed to new measures, including hospitality and retail, by diminishing their cashflow and dampening customer demand.

“More support is urgently needed to aid those firms worst effected by Plan B, including returning VAT for hospitality and tourism back to its emergency rate of 5%, reinstating full business rates relief for these firms and making additional grant funding available," said Suren Thiru, BBC head of economics.

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