But Kiwis returning from Australia will need to adjust financial expectations as average wage drops
For the first time since the global recession hit, it is now easier to find a job in New Zealand than in Australia.
A sharp drop in New Zealand's unemployment rate from 6 per cent in March to 5.6 per cent in June has brought the local jobless rate below Australia's - 6 per cent - for the first time since March 2009.
Employment agencies said they were seeing New Zealanders returning after their jobs dried up in Australia, but only in selected sectors related to mining and construction.
Other figures put out yesterday show New Zealand's average weekly fulltime wage dropped 0.5 per cent from $1092.95 in March to $1087.20 in June and is still around one-third below the Australian average of A$1500.10 ($1655.02).
Migrants from Australia - mainly returning Kiwis - expecting to stay here at least a year reached 22,200 in the year to June, the highest eastward flow since at least the 1970s.
Migrants going in the opposite direction plunged from 48,000 in the year to June last year to 30,500 in the latest year, resulting in the smallest net outflow since 1995.
Tradestaff managing director Kevin Eder said many Kiwi tradespeople were returning for the Christchurch rebuild.
"I've just come back from Western Australia, and every single person I met in the recruitment game or the mining game, their opening statement was how much things have slowed down," he said. "We have started to see quite a bit of inquiry out of there. The issue always is that they have become accustomed to earning serious money and it's a bit of a bitter pill to swallow to come back here."
An Auckland recruitment agent specialising in transport and logistics, Ross Upton, said he had started to see drivers and warehouse workers coming home in the past three months despite a typical pay gap of $10 an hour.
"We are certainly having Kiwis coming back who perhaps haven't found Australia to be the land of milk and honey that it was made out to be," he said.
But Drake Recruitment Auckland manager Tiffany Macfarlane said there was no sign of New Zealanders returning for office jobs.
Yesterday's figures show employment growth has been patchy, rising 11.5 per cent in Christchurch in the past year but by only 2.9 per cent in Auckland and 2 per cent across the rest of the country.
Unemployment has virtually vanished in Christchurch, down to 2.8 per cent. It is above the average in Auckland (6.2 per cent), Waikato (6.4 per cent) and Northland (8.3 per cent).
The concentration of growth in blue-collar jobs has helped to narrow ethnic and age gaps. Pacific unemployment has plunged from 16.3 per cent a year ago to 11.4 per cent, with smaller improvements for Maori (down from 12.8 per cent to 11 per cent) and Europeans (from 5 per cent to 4.1 per cent).
Young people not in employment, education or training fell from 11.8 per cent of those aged 15 to 24 a year ago to 10.8 per cent, about the same level as in 2007 (10.4 per cent).
Back home to less pay but more family time
Allan Uota has taken a pay cut to come home - but at least he has a job and is close to his family again.
Mr Uota, 34, went to Australia in 2009 after his marriage broke up and business was slowing at Placemakers' house frame and truss factory in Wiri, where he was a leading hand.
Before he left, he found a job in the same industry in Warrnambool, Victoria.
But last year, as the Australian mining boom collapsed, the factory closed. He found a job for a few weeks helping to shut down a mine, but then he decided to come home.
"My old lady passed away last year. She was sick," he said.
He also wanted to see his two children, now aged 14 and 12, who had stayed in Auckland with their mother. They now spend time with him at weekends and in school holidays.
At first it was difficult to find a job and he ended up working in security at $15 an hour, a big pay cut from the A$21 ($23) he earned in Warrnambool. But he heard that Placemakers was hiring again through labour-hire company Allied Work Force, and this week he started back again in his old workplace earning $19 an hour.
"The pay is pretty much similar [to Australia]," he said between shifts yesterday. "In this job I'll get extra hours and will be able to save up."
Wiri factory manager Laurie Smith said that in the past year the factory had started up a second shift for the first time in eight years, and hired 24 extra workers taking it to 91 staff.
"We are planning on increasing the second shift into a full second shift," he said. "That will be another 15 people over the next six to eight months."