CANBERRA, AAP – The rate of hiring workers in Australia was comfortably above its pre-pandemic level in the latter stages of 2021, but the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has since cast some concerns over the outlook.

New data released by business and employment online operator LinkedIn showed hiring on average as of the December quarter was 16 per cent higher over the year compared to same pre-COVID period.

This came as restrictions were gradually lifted in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.

“However, there remain risks to the recovery give the emergence of the Omicron variant,” LinkedIn warned.

Even so, it expects the labour market to tighten in coming months with job seekers in the driver’s seat and in a better position to negotiate employment terms.

There are already signs that job seekers are becoming more selective in terms of there being fewer applications per job, down 63 per cent compared to 12 months earlier.

“In order to attract and retain top talent, current and potential employers alike will need to focus on what workers want – strong culture, clear career paths, and flexibility,” LinkedIn says.

It believes remote forms of work will become a permanent feature of the labour market after gaining traction in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will on Thursday release labour force figures for December.

Economists expect a 60,000 increase in the number of people employed after November’s surge as 366,100 Australians entered or rejoined the workforce after the end of Delta variant lockdowns..

They expect the jobless rate to ease to 4.5 per cent, a level briefly seen in August before the Delta restrictions were put in place.

In November the jobless rate fell sharply to 4.6 per cent after the spike to 5.2 per cent in October.

The release of the latest weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index will provide a gauge of how Australians are coping with the Omicron variant and what it might mean for retail spending.

Last week, and in its first update of the year, confidence fell 2.2 per cent due to the impact of Omicron and at a time of year when Australians are usually upbeat.