New Zealand’s tight labour market but do all benefit?

Figures out yesterday show that unemployment in New Zealand remained at 3.4% which makes for a very tight labour market. One wonders if this figure is beyond the maximum sustainable levels with the RBNZ worried about the pressure on private sector wages feeding into inflation. The RBNZ would like labour market pressures to ease – i.e. they want unemployment – as this should bring down inflation. However on 18th May the government deliver the Budget and no doubt there will be some fiscal stimulus that the RBNZ will need to be aware of – Expansionary Fiscal Policy vs Contractionary Monetary Policy. It seems the Government want to put money into the circular flow especially as it is election year but the RBNZ want to keep inflation between 1-3%. Ultimately it is Politics vs Economics.

Full employment doesn’t mean all workers benefit
Full employment has normally been the concept that has been used to describe a situation where there is no cyclical or deficient-demand unemployment, but unemployment does exist as allowances must be made for frictional unemployment and seasonal factors – also referred to as the natural rate of unemployment or Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU). Full employment does suggest that the employee has a lot of bargaining power as the supply of labour is scarce relative to the demand. In theory a tight labour market should lead to higher wages and improved conditions of work as the employer has less labour to chose from. We have seen in the labour market incentives for employees in recommending potential candidates for vacancies in the company. Other incentives for potential employees include shorter working weeks, hiring bonuses and special leave days.

Michael Cameron’s article in The Conversation suggest that this doesn’t apply to all workers. A lot depends on the bargaining power of the worker and the elasticity of supply of labour. If the supply is very inelastic for a particular job (higher skilled) it is harder and most likely more expensive for the employer to find an alternative worker. This is evident when unemployment is low as the worker can easily look around at other job opportunities. On the contrary if the supply of labour is more elastic (lower skilled jobs) the worker has less bargaining power and the employer will have more potential workers to chose from. The graph below shows the elasticity of supply of labour – high skilled has a steeper curve (inelastic) whilst low skilled as a flatter curve (elastic)

Source: Economicshelp

ANZ New Zealand Labour Market Review | March 2023 Quarter
Michael Cameron writes in The Conversation


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