UK markets open in 5 hours 23 minutes

Surge in UK jobs: 222,000 new roles created in past three months

Alanna Petroff
Senior Economics Correspondent at Yahoo Finance UK
The tight UK labour market has forced employers to hike salaries. Photo: Lionel Derimais/Getty Images

British companies continued hiring hundreds of thousands of new employees in the November to January period, even with Brexit right around the corner.

New data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed employers ramped up their hiring at the fastest pace in more than three years during the three-month period spanning 2018 and 2019.

The number of people in work surged by 222,000, pushing the unemployment rate down to 3.9%, its lowest level since 1975. The sharp increase in new jobs handily beat economists’ expectations.

The tight labour market has supported wage growth as companies try to retain their workers, while also recruiting new hires.

Average weekly earnings were up 3.4% in the three-month period compared to the same time last year, according to the ONS. Once you factor in inflation — which eats into people’s earnings — workers were making about 1.5% more compared to last year.

READ MORE: The 10 UK professions with the fastest-rising pay

The labour market has continued to defy weakness in the overall economy. Businesses have kept hiring even as they warned that uncertainty has led them to pause investments and struggle with planning for the future.

“It appears that the labour market is still in remarkably rude health despite the ongoing calamity surrounding Brexit,” said David Cheetham, chief market analyst at the trading platform XTB.

The latest pay data is considered to be a positive sign for workers across the country.

“Political developments aside, these latest numbers, combined with the moderation in inflation … suggests that 2019 is among the better recent periods for workers,” according to Mike Jakeman, a senior economist at PwC. “Upward pressure on wages is likely to continue for the remainder of the year at least, on the assumption that a no-deal Brexit is avoided.”

Data debacle

The ONS labour market report was accidentally released 10 minutes early, at 9:20am UK time instead of the scheduled 9:30am.

A spokesperson told Yahoo Finance UK the early publication was due to an “error” and an “oversight on our part.”

READ MORE: Latest UK unemployment data accidentally published 10 minutes early

While this report is known to influence market sentiment, there was little reaction in stocks and currencies (GBPUSD=X) on Tuesday.

Despite a robust set of figures … all eyes are still firmly on Brexit proceedings and the pound’s muted reaction reflects this,” said Hamish Muress, a currency analyst at the international payment platform OFX.