New Zealanders are feeling even less confident about their job security in the coming year, according to a report out today.
A survey of 1577 people last month revealed a dark cloud of pessimism hangs over most regions, with Canterbury the exception.
The Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Index rose to 99.1 in the December quarter, up slightly from 98.9 in the September 2012 quarter.
This is the fifth consecutive quarter that the index has been in pessimistic territory.
"The best thing to be said about today's survey is that it could have been worse," said Westpac Senior Economist Felix Delbrück.
Employment confidence remains at very low levels and households' assessment of their personal job security has taken a step back, said Delbrück.
Job security sentiment fell back sharply in the quarter, with only a net 3 per cent (optimists slightly outnumbering pessimists) now expecting their jobs to become more secure over the coming year, down from 12 per cent in the previous survey.
Respondents' assessment of current and future job opportunities improved slightly but remains very downbeat. A net 60 per cent (down from 63 per cent) said jobs are hard to get and a net 6 per cent (down from 8 per cent) said they expect them to get worse over the coming year.
Looking at pay, a net 24 per cent said their earnings had increased over the past year (up from 22 per cent), and a net 34 per cent expected them to rise over the year ahead, up from 32 per cent.
Earnings expectations have risen for two quarters but are still well below levels seen before the 2008/2009 recession.
Delbrück said Canterbury continues to be the one bright spot in what was overall still a fairly gloomy report. Canterbury registered an index of 113.5, up from 110.9.
"Canterbury is now the only region where employment confidence is clearly in optimistic territory," said Delbrück.
"The accelerating post-quake rebuild is clearly boosting Cantabrians' assessment of job opportunities and their own job security.
"However, their earnings expectations have stayed fairly steady, suggesting that wage pressures remain low outside particular industries."
The national index level would have fallen more sharply had employees in the large Wellington and Canterbury labour markets not become more optimistic, said Richard Miller from McDermott Miller.
Auckland's index fell 3.9 points to a pessimistic 96.9, Bay of Plenty's 5.2 points to 92.5 and Otago's 3.5 to 94.4.
"Loss of confidence by employees in some of New Zealand's largest and most important labour markets has restrained a further lift in the national index," Miller said.
Any recovery in employment confidence may have stalled, he added.
Those in the private sector continue to be more optimistic than their public sector counterparts.
The Private Sector Employment Confidence Index fell from 101.4 to 100.3, while the Public Sector Index rose from 96.3 to 97.4.
The survey was conducted between December 1 and 10.
An index number greater than 100 indicates that optimists outnumber pessimists. The margin of error in the survey is 2.5 per cent with a 95 per cent confidence interval.
The index summarises responses to five questions:
1. Do you think jobs are plentiful or hard to get?
2. Do you think job opportunities in New Zealand in a year's time compared to now will be more plentiful, harder to
get or about the same?
3. Do you earn more, less, or the same in your paid work now compared to this time last year?
4. Do you expect to be earning more, less or the same in your paid work this time next year?
5. Would you say your job is likely to be more or less secure over the coming year than now?