Bloomberg News

Australia Wage Growth Quickens as Resource Boom Benefits Workers

February 22, 2012

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Wages in Australia accelerated last quarter at the fastest pace in a year as workers benefited from the nation’s resource bonanza.

The wage price index, which measures hourly pay rates excluding bonuses, rose 1 percent in the final three months of 2011 from the prior quarter, when it advanced 0.7 percent, the statistics bureau said today in Sydney. That exceeded the median of 12 estimates for a 0.8 percent gain in a Bloomberg survey.

The data reinforce Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens’s unexpected decision to keep the benchmark interest rate unchanged at 4.25 percent on Feb. 7 as a mining investment boom intensifies and risks from Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis ebb. Labor disputes in Australia surged last year, with days lost to strikes rising to a seven-year high as workers at BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest miner, stepped up campaigns for higher pay.

“It’s possible the pickup in industrial action over the course of 2011 is starting to show up in the official wage data,” said Michael Turner, a fixed-income strategist in Sydney at Royal Bank of Canada. “At the margin, it supports the RBA’s decision to remain on hold.”

The wage price index advanced 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, today’s report showed. Economists forecast a 3.4 percent annual gain.

Pay at companies increased 1 percent in the fourth quarter from three months earlier, the biggest gain in a year, the report showed. Salaries of government employees advanced 0.8 percent from the third quarter, when they rose 0.5 percent.

Labor Laws

The Australian government said in December it will review labor laws amid a jump in strike action and criticism from business groups that existing legislation is stifling productivity and giving too much power to unions.

The number of working days lost rose to 101,300 in the three months ended September, up from 66,200 in the June quarter according to government data. That is the highest quarterly result since 154,200 were recorded in June 2004.

Mining wages increased 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, and manufacturing pay gained 3.7 percent over the period, today’s report showed.

The currency was little changed after the data, trading at $1.0637 at 12:23 p.m. in Sydney from $1.0651 before the release.

Australia’s economy is being driven by China, the nation’s biggest trading partner, which is buying up iron ore, coal and natural gas as millions of people in the world’s most populous country move to urban centers.

Western Wages

The RBA, in its quarterly statement on monetary policy released Feb. 10, “said total labor income is rising strongly in Western Australia, consistent with rapid growth in high-wage employment in the resources sector in that state.”

The RBA reduced borrowing costs in November and December last year as inflation cooled and global risks increased. This month’s rate pause spurred the currency, which reached a six- month high of $1.0845 following the decision and has appreciated 4 percent this year.

The local dollar’s strength is hurting Toyota Motor Corp.’s Australian division, the country’s largest car exporter, which announced last month it would cut more than a 10th of the employees at its assembly plant after a 21 percent decline in 2011 production. General Motors Co.’s local unit has also announced job cuts.

--With assistance from Daniel Petrie in Sydney. Editors: Brendan Murray, Benjamin Purvis

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at sphang@bloomberg.net


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