New Zealanders are the most pessimistic about the jobs market in more than two years as companies trim back their plans to take on more workers.

The Westpac-McDermott Miller Confidence Index fell 4.6 points to 99.6 in the December quarter, indicating the number of pessimists outnumber optimism and the lowest level since June 2009. Current employment conditions dipped 0.5 points to 83.8, while employment expectations sank 7.5 points to 110.1.

"Employment confidence has fallen to its lowest level since mid-2009 when the economy was emerging from recession," Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said in a statement. "This is another sign that the storm clouds hanging over the global economy have started to affect New Zealanders' economic confidence."

Today's weak showing comes after the National Bank Business Outlook last month showed employers continued to reduce their hiring intentions for the coming year, while government data showed the unemployment unexpectedly ticked up to 6.6 per cent in the September quarter.


The Westpac report said the fall in the headline number was "almost entirely" due to the increased pessimism about current employment conditions, and 9 per cent of 1,567 survey respondents expect job prospects will get worse over the coming year.

"A sense of greater vulnerability is emerging among lower and middle income households," the report said.

A net 15 per cent of lower income respondents think their jobs will be less secure in a year's time, up from 3 per cent in the September quarter, while just 9 per cent expect to earn more, down from 31 per cent.

Richard Miller, managing director of McDermott Miller, said public sector employees were more pessimistic than their private sector peers, underpinned by the "realisation that the employment opportunities will be restricted in the future, anxiety over job security and lower expectations of earnings."

Earlier this week, online job website Seek said the average salary advertised on its site rose 5 per cent to $73,530 through the first 11 months of last year, led by sharp increases in the mining, resources and energy sector.

The national increase in salaries advertised on Seek outpaced the 3.2 per cent annual increase in average ordinary hourly wage to $26.53 by the end of September, according to government data. On a 40-hour working week, that equates to $55,182, or one-third below the average advertised salary on Seek.