Labour Market


This section covers the current state and movements in the Northern Territory’s (NT) labour market. Analysis is provided on key characteristics and indicators of the NT local labour force, including the current state and performance on employment, unemployment, the unemployment and the participation rates. This is broken down even further by gender, job status, regions and employment industries.

 Infographic showing change in employment Infographic showing unemployment rate 


Employment | Unemployment | ParticipationYouth labour | Explanatory notes

Employment

Employment conditions in the Territory remain heavily impacted by the unprecedented effects of the Ichthys liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. During the labour-intensive construction phase, the Territory attracted a significant number of workers (interstate and overseas migrants) to supplement the local skilled workforce, which supported strong employment growth. Following its completion, Territory employment has moderated.

Trend resident employment in the NT increased by 0.3% to 129,469 people in August 2019, which was the highest growth in employment in the nation, equal with the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. Nationally, resident employment increased by 0.2% to 12.9 million people.

In the year to August 2019, resident employment in the NT decreased by 4.6%, the largest decline since 1988 and the largest decline of all jurisdictions (Chart 1). This accounts for an average 131,303 residents employed in the NT during the year, and represents about 1.0% of the total national employment.

Job status

The increase in the NT’s trend employment was driven by a 0.6% increase in part-time employment (29,498 persons) and a 0.2% increase in full‑time employment (99,971 persons).

In the year to August 2019, the decline in the NT’s employment was driven by a 5.7% decrease in full-time employment and a 0.2 per cent decline in part‑time employment. The overall proportion of part-time employment is relatively stable and continues to represent about one fifth of total employment in the NT. The annual average total resident employment was made up of about 103,021 people employed on a full‑‑time basis and 28,282 people employed on a part‑time basis (Chart 2).

Sex

In August 2019, total trend resident employment was made up of 68,042 males (about 52.6% of total employment) and 61,427 females (about 47.4% of total employment) in the NT’s labour market.

Sex by status

The total number of males employed in the Territory decreased by 5.5 per cent in year on year terms. This was driven by a decline in full-time male employment (down 7.7 per cent), partly offset by an increase in part-time employment (up 9.1 per cent).

The total number of females employed also declined (down 3.6 per cent), driven by a 3.0 per cent decrease in full‑time employment, and a 5.0 per cent decrease in part-time employment over the same period.

Regions

Across the regions, the decline in employment was driven by falls in the NT Outback (down 8.9 %) as well as the Darwin region (down 2.1%) in the year to August 2019.

Sex by region

The year-on-year decline in the NT Outback was driven by a 10.8% decrease in male employment and a 6.7% decrease in female employment. The employment loss in the Darwin region was influenced by a 2.4% decrease in male employment and a 1.6% decrease in female employment. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) does not break down the NT Outback into smaller regions.

Industries

In the year to August 2019, the industries that reported the largest declines in employment include construction (detracting 2.6 percentage points), mining (detracting 1.3 percentage points), health care and social assistance (detracting 0.8 percentage points), arts and recreation services (detracting 0.4 percentage points), and agriculture, forestry and fishing (detracting 0.4 percentage points).

The Ichthys liquefied natural gas (LNG) project has been a strong driver of employment in the NT in recent years and, as such, the significant reduction in its workforce due to the completion of the construction phase, has had a strong influence on construction employment levels. In the year to August 2019, the construction sector decreased by 25.6%, now being the fifth largest employing industry in the NT (7.9% of total employment). This was attributed to the significant falls across engineering, non-residential and residential building activity in the NT.

Partly offsetting this, the industries that had the largest contribution include administrative and support services (contributing 0.7 percentage points), public administration (contributing 0.4 percentage points), wholesale trade (contributing 0.3 percentage points) and rental, hiring and real estate services (contributing 0.2 percentage points).

For further analysis on employment by industries, please refer to the relevant section on the Industry Analysis page.

Industries by job status

For further analysis on employment by industries, please refer to the relevant section on the Industry Analysis page.

Fly-in-fly-out workers

The ABS does not currently publish data on fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers in the labour force survey. However, Census data can be used to gain an estimate of the number of people working on a FIFO basis at a given point in time.

Inbound

There are a large number of people who work in the NT on a FIFO basis. While they are mostly employed in mining-related activities, their contribution to the NT’s workforce is widespread. As these workers are not resident in the NT, they are not included in the NT’s labour force figures or population figures. As a result, the NT’s employment numbers are not truly reflective of the number of jobs being created in the NT. Similarly, the number of people coming to the NT for work are not fully reflected in the NT’s interstate migration figures.

At the 2016 Census, there were around 8,700 FIFO workers in the NT, 3,500 more than at the 2011 Census. Much of the increase was in the construction industry, with an additional 1,600 FIFO workers in 2016, reflecting the impact of major projects on FIFO numbers in the NT.

Despite the downturn in the industry over the past few years, mining continues to be a major contributor to the number of FIFO workers in the NT, with over one third of the NT’s mining workforce resident in other jurisdictions. The third largest industry for FIFO workers in the NT is the professional, scientific and technical services industry, which is also closely related to the mining industry and major projects.

Smaller but still significant contributions come from the public sector, reflecting both the large military presence in the NT, as well as the difficulty in recruiting specialist medical staff, particularly in remote locations (Table 3).

Outbound

There are also residents of the NT who leave the NT to engage in temporary employment opportunities in other jurisdictions. This means these workers are not captured within the NT’s labour force but remain within the NT’s estimated resident population statistics. At the 2016 Census, there were around 1,700 outbound FIFO workers from the NT.

The majority of these FIFO’s travelled to Western Australia (about 26.9% of total outbound FIFO workers), Queensland (about 23.3%) and New South Wales (about 22.1%), likely to engage in temporary work in the construction or resources sectors. Other FIFO workers went to Victoria (about 12.8%) and South Australia (about 10.4%), and a small number travelled to the Australian Capital Territory (about 2.7%) and Tasmania (about 1.3%) for temporary employment.

Families

The employment status of parents with young families provides some insight into the economic wellbeing of families with dependents. In 2019, there was an estimated total of 60,000 families living in the NT, a decrease of 1.0% (or 600 families) from 2014 (historical time series data is only available across two five year intervals for the years 2009, 2014, and 2019). This comprised about 51,800 coupled families (down 1.7%), 6,900 one parent families (down 1.4%), and 1,300 other families (includes families of related individuals residing in the same household who are not a couple or one parent family, for example a brother and a sister) (up 49.6%).

Within couple families, the number of families with at least one child aged under 15 years decreased by 7.7% to 22,000 in 2019. Within this category there was about 29.9% or 15,500 families who had both parents employed, which declined by 3.9% from 2014, with more than two thirds employed in a full‑time position. The number of couple families with only one parent employed full‑time also decreased by 25.5% to 4,900 families over the past five years, representing about 9.4% of families within this category in 2019. However, the number of families with at least on child aged under 15 years in which neither parent was employed increased by 39.3% to 1,600 between 2014 and 2019 (Chart 3).

Unemployment

In the month, the NT’s trend unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage point to 5.1%, being the fourth lowest rate across Australia. The increase in the unemployment rate was a result of a 1.8% increase in unemployed persons in the local labour force to 6,812 in August 2019.

In other jurisdictions, the trend unemployment rate ranged from 3.5% in the Australian Capital Territory to 6.8% in South Australia. Nationally, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.3% in August 2019.

As a result, the NT’s unemployment rate averaged 4.7% in the year, the fourth lowest rate of all jurisdictions, in original terms (Chart 4). Across the other jurisdictions, the average annual unemployment rate ranged from 3.6% in the Australian Capital Territory to 6.3% in Tasmania. Over the same period, the national unemployment rate averaged 5.1%.

Job status

In the year to August 2019, the increase in unemployed persons in the NT’s labour market was driven by a 9.5% increase in unemployed persons looking for full‑time employment, partly offset a 1.2% decrease in unemployed persons looking for part‑time employment. The majority of unemployed persons consisted of people searching for full‑time employment (81.6% of total unemployed persons). Unemployed persons by job status is not available in trend terms.

Sex

The total number of unemployed people comprised about 3,788 males (up by 11.8%) and 2,730 females (up by 1.8%) in the NT’s labour market in the year to August 2019.

Sex by status

The increase in the total number of unemployed males in the NT was driven by a 15.5% increase in unemployed males looking for full‑time employment, partly offset by a 15.5% decrease in unemployed males looking for part-time employment. Over the same period, the increase in the total number of unemployed females was influenced by a 6.1% increase in unemployed females looking for part-time employment, partly offset by a 0.1% decrease in unemployed females looking for full-time employment. Unemployed persons by job status is not available in trend terms.

Regions

According to estimates published by the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business for small area labour markets, the average annual unemployment rate increased across all of the NT regions in the year to March 2019. The Greater Darwin region (which includes Darwin city, Darwin suburbs, Palmerston and Litchfield), had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.8%, which was above its five-year annual average of 3.4%.

Across the other regions, the Barkly and Daly-Tiwi-West-Arnhem regions recorded the greatest increase of 1.0 and 1.2 percentage points respectively, in the annual average unemployment rate, resulting in the highest unemployment rates (6.9% and 8.3% respectively) (Table 4).

Underemployment

The underemployment rate, as a proportion of labour force, measures the extent to which those working part‑time who wanted and were available to work more hours, and those employed full‑time who actually worked part‑time hours for economic (involuntary) reasons, such as being stood down or insufficient work being available. This is different from unemployment rate, as an individual is working but is not working at full capacity.

In August 2019, the NT trend underemployment rate was unchanged at 5.9%, compared to the national average of 8.5% (Chart 5). In the NT, the underemployment rate was higher for females (7.4%) which was unchanged in the month, compared to males (4.6%) which decreased by 0.1 percentage points. This was consistent with the national underemployment by sex (10.4% and 6.8% respectively).

Underutilisation

The underutilisation rate is key measure which combines the number of unemployed and the underemployed persons, expressed as a proportion of the labour force.

In the NT, the trend underutilisation rate was unchanged at 11.0% in August 2019, compared to 13.8% nationally (Chart 5). Despite the underutilisation rate in the NT being significantly higher than the unemployment rate, it was the second lowest trend underutilisation rate of the jurisdictions, behind the Australian Capital Territory (10.5%). A potential factor of this is the high number of hours worked by some segments of the working population, making it difficult for people trying to secure employment, in current constrained economic and labour market conditions. In other jurisdictions, the trend underutilisation rate ranged from 12.5% in New South Wales to 17.4% in Tasmania. In the NT, the underutilisation rate was higher for females (12.1%) compared to males (10.0%). This was consistent with the national level (15.6% and 12.1% respectively).

Participation

The NT consistently has the highest participation rate of all jurisdictions. This reflects the comparatively young age profile of the NT’s workforce and that employment is often a key motivator for people to move to the NT, whereas unemployment is a key motivator for people to leave.

The NT’s trend participation rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 71.9% in August 2019, which remains the highest of all jurisdictions. In other states and territories, the participation rate ranged from 60.2% in Tasmania to 70.6% in the Australian Capital Territory. Nationally, the trend participation rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 66.2% (Chart 6).

In the year to August 2019, the NT’s average annual participation rate decreased by 2.9 percentage points to 73.1%, while the national annual average rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 65.8%, in original terms. Despite the fall in labour participation, the NT’s average rate remains the highest of all jurisdictions.

Sex

In trend terms, the monthly participation rate of males was greater (74.3%) compared to the monthly participation rate of females (69.5%) in the NT’s labour market. This was also consistent at the national level (male participation rate of 71.3%, compared to a female participation rate of 61.2%). In August 2019, the monthly NT participation rate of males decreased by 0.1 percentage points, however increased by 0.4 percentage points for females. The annual average participation rate for males was 76.5%, compared to 69.5% for females in the year to August 2019.

Regions

The annual average participation rate in Darwin was 9.7 percentage points higher compared to the NT Outback in the year to August 2019, at 76.8% and 67.2%, respectively. This trend primarily relates to the scarcity of jobs in remote regions, where people may give up looking for work and drop out of the labour force. The Darwin annual average participation rate decreased by 1.1 percentage points, compared to a 5.9 percentage points decline in the NT Outback.

Sex by region

The annual average male participation rate (80.8% in Darwin and 69.4% in the NT Outback) was higher than the female participation rate in both regions (72.6% in Darwin and 64.9% in the NT Outback). Participation rates of all genders decreased across the NT.

Youth labour

The youth labour market (those aged between 15 and 24) displays different characteristics to that of the rest of the labour force. Young people have, for example, higher levels of job mobility, lower average incomes and a different occupational profile to the rest of the working population. Traditionally, the youth labour market make up a large share of unemployment as well as a lower labour participation in the economy.

The unemployment rate for younger people in the NT has historically been higher than for the rest of the population and is currently around 5.8 percentage points above the total NT annual average unemployment rate (10.5% and 4.7% respectively) (Chart 7). This difference tends to increase when economic conditions slow and narrow when conditions improve.

Over recent decades, labour market outcomes for younger people in the NT have changed significantly as this age bracket currently accounts for a lower share of the labour force (13.9% in the year to August 2019 compared to 18.5% in the year to July 2009). This reflects both the gradual ageing of the population and a decline in the participation rate of younger workers.

The decrease in labour force participation and increased prevalence of part-time work for younger Australians is partly related to the moderate increase in the share of 15–24 year olds who are attending full time education (4,900 persons) (Chart 8). The youth participation rate averaged 62.6% in the year to August 2019, which was 10.4 percentage points lower than the overall NT participation rate. In recent years, there has also been a fall in the number of youth in employment that are not attending full-time education, which can be associated to a greater share of younger workers who are underemployed in the market.

Explanatory notes

Labour market statistics are based on data reported by the ABS. For the latest available data and analysis, see the Department of Treasury and Finance’s (DTF) Labour Force economic brief. For labour force statistics by industry, please refer to the relevant section on the Industry Analysis page.

The labour force survey measures the labour market status of people aged 15 years and over who are residents in the NT. People are considered employed in the NT if they work for one hour or more in a week and unemployed if they were not working but were actively looking for work and available to start work. The labour force participation rate measures the proportion of the civilian population aged 15 years and over that is either employed or unemployed.

Furthermore, the ABS survey reports on the employment of Australian workers in the jurisdiction based on place of usual residence rather than place of employment. Therefore, the survey does not record FIFO workers in the NT if they are allocated in the survey to their state of residence. Similarly, permanent or temporary overseas workers will be classified as employed in the NT only if they consider themselves to be a resident in the NT. Permanent defence force personnel are excluded from the survey and therefore the ABS labour force survey may not reflect actual employment.

The NT has proportionately more households out of its total population surveyed each month, compared to other states. However, due to the relatively small population of the NT, the labour market estimates are subject to a relatively high standard error. Where trend data is available, monthly and quarterly figures are reported in trend terms to represent the underlying data after removing seasonal effects from the original data and smoothing out irregularities. Otherwise, the information is presented as year on year figures which are reported in original terms. Youth labour estimates should be used with caution as the ABS notes they are subject to sampling variability too high for practical purposes.

The Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families publication is the main source for estimates of the number of families in Australia. The data are compiled using the composition of family structures in the June labour force survey sample, benchmarked to match independent counts of persons and households from the most recent Census and estimated resident population. In the most recent release, historical time series data is available across two 5 year intervals (2009, 2014 and 2019).

The ABS also provides estimates on the NT’s remote and Aboriginal populations and labour characteristics every five years, following a Census. For this additional analysis, refer to the Aboriginal Labour Force Characteristics section on the website.

DTF also works closely with the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation (DTBI) to compile information on the NT's labour market. For more industry and business-related data, please refer to their main website.

The Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business publish quarterly estimates for state and territory regions by Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2) and Local Government Area (LGA). There are around 2,200 SA2s (2,090 of which are published) and 540 LGAs in Australia. The SA2s are a geographical unit in the ABS Australian Statistical Geography Standard, upon which the ABS Labour Force Survey data are based. Regional estimates are produced on small area unemployment, unemployment rate and labour force.  For more information, refer to the Small Area Labour Markets publication online.