CANBERRA, AAP – The still lofty unemployment rate looks set for further improvement with job vacancies growing at a solid pace as the economy recovers from last year’s recession.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said job vacancies in the November quarter jumped 23.4 per cent to be 12 per cent higher than a year earlier and surpassing the pre-COVID levels seen in February.

ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said the 48,000 rise in the November quarter follows the sharp 77,000 increase reported three months earlier as COVID restrictions continued to be relaxed across Australia.

“This reflected the pace of recovery in labour demand in the second half of the year and labour shortages in some industries,” Mr Jarvis said.

Confirming this continued upswing in demand for workers, the National Skills Commission’s preliminary reading of its monthly vacancy report showed job ads on the internet rose by a further 1.4 per cent in December.

This represented the eighth consecutive monthly increase with ads now standing 11.1 per cent higher than a year earlier.

The unemployment rate was 6.8 per cent in November after hitting a 22-year high of 7.5 per cent in June.

In last month’s mid-year budget review, Treasury forecast the jobless rate falling further to 6.25 per cent in the next financial year and to 5.75 per cent in 2022/23.

In a further sign of improving economic conditions, payment times between businesses also declined in many industries last year.

However, there are concerns that this trend could be cut short from the imposition of snap lockdowns.

Research by commercial credit bureau CreditorWatch found 15 out of 19 industry groups reported a reduction in the time it takes to pay their bills.

The most notable improvement was in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, which saw payment times halved over the year after a decade of tough times due to the impact of the drought.

At the other end of the spectrum, the retail sector saw payment times increase by almost a third over the year, although there was a 29 per cent reduction in December.

CreditorWatch CEO Patrick Coghlan said the reduction in payment times reflects better economic conditions.

“However, lockdowns and border closures at the end of the year due to COVID have the potential to stymie this,” he said on Wednesday.

COVID lockdowns over Christmas in Sydney’s northern beaches, and more recently a weekend lockdown in Greater Brisbane, have put a minor dent in consumer confidence to start the new year.