Australia job advertisements plunge record 53.1% in April - ANZAustralia job advertisements plunge record 53.1% in April - ANZ
A man walks into a Centrelink, part of the Australian government’s department of human services where job seekers search for employment, in a Sydney suburb

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian job advertisements suffered their largest ever fall in April as strict social distancing rules and business closures to combat the coronavirus all but crushed demand for labour.

Monday’s figures from Australia and New Zealand Banking Group <ANZ.AX> showed total job ads plunged 53.1% in April, from March when they dropped 10%. The fall was almost five times larger than the previous record of 11.3% in January 2009.

Job ads averaged just 63,806 in April, down from 136,106 in March and 62.2% lower than a year earlier.

Economists fear unemployment could spike toward 10% in coming months as large chunks of the economy were shut to fight the virus. The jobless rate stood at 5.2% in March but the survey was taken early in the month before the lockdown took full effect.

ANZ senior economist Catherine Birch said the government’s JobKeeper payment plan to keep people in work could temper the rise in unemployment to around 9.5%, but there would still be substantial loss of employment, hours worked and household income over the coming months.

The ANZ vacancies series is closely watched by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) given it counts actual job ads, while Australian Bureau of Statistics data is based on intentions by firms to hire.

The RBA has slashed rates to a record low of 0.25% and launched a massive bond buying programme to cushion the economy from the impact of the pandemic.

The central bank holds its May policy meeting on Tuesday and is widely expected to stand pat for now as it gauges the effect of its latest easing measures.

(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Sam Holmes)