CANBERRA, AAP – Demand for skilled workers remains strong, with job advertisements posted on the internet at their highest level since July 2008 and prior to the global financial crisis.

Preliminary National Skills Commission figures released on Monday show job ads rose by a further 3.7 per cent in March to 282,400.

Over the year, jobs ads were 24.1 per cent higher, while they were a staggering 67.8 per cent above pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

Recruitment activity increased across all states and territories, with Victoria and the ACT both recording their highest level since this data series began in January 2006.

Such demand for workers backs economists’ forecasts that the unemployment rate will be below four per cent for the first time in nearly 50 years when labour force figures for March are released on Thursday.

“We’ve got more people in work today, some 375,000 more people … than before the pandemic hit,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison boasted on Monday, the first day of the six-week election campaign.

In contrast, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese was unable to say what the unemployment rate was.

“I think it’s 5.4 – sorry. I’m not sure what it is,” Mr Albanese said when asked about the figure.

The consensus among economists points to a jobless rate of 3.9 per cent for March, down from four per cent in February, although forecasts range from 3.8 per cent to 4.1 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Australian Institute of Petroleum will release its weekly petrol price report, which will likely show another drop in prices as the government’s cut in fuel excise works its way through the system.

Last week’s report showed the national average for petrol prices fell by a record 13.3 cents to 193.4 cents a litre, with only Tasmania and the Northern Territory still showing figures above $2 per litre.

This was largely seen as a result of falling global oil prices.

Since then the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said all major cities were enjoying the impact of the tax reduction.

It expected that over the next few weeks, as petrol stations use up their stocks of fuel on which the higher excise had already been paid, the reduced wholesale price will be passed through at the bowser everywhere.

The government halved fuel excise for six months to 22 cents a litre as part of an $8.6 billion cost of living package.