CANBERRA, AAP – At a time when tens of thousands of people may be worrying about their futures following the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy this week, there was further positive news on businesses’ hiring demands.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that between November 2020 and February 2021 there was a 13.7 per cent increase in job vacancies – 27 per cent higher than a year earlier and prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABS head of labour market statistics Bjorn Jarvis said there were 289,000 job vacancies in February – 61,000 more than a year earlier.

“This reflected the pace of recovery in labour demand over the second half of 2020 and early 2021, and labour shortages in some industries,” he said.

Treasury estimates up to 150,000 people could be out of work as a result of JobKeeper ending.

The JobSeeker coronavirus supplement also ended on Wednesday, although the dole rate was slightly lifted.

One area where employment growth has surged is among manufacturers, where confidence has been boosted by buoyant levels of new orders.

“The challenge over the next couple of months will be to maintain momentum as fiscal support is wound back further and while COVID-19 remains a threat,” Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said.

The Ai Group’s performance of manufacturing index rose by a further 1.1 points to 59.9 on Thursday, its highest level since March 2018.

It was the index’s sixth consecutive rise and showed the industry was comfortably in expansion territory.

Mr Willox said manufacturing grew across the full range of sectors.

Meanwhile, retail spending declined 0.8 per cent in February, a slightly smaller fall than had been estimated in preliminary figures released last month.

However, retail trade was still a solid 9.1 per cent higher than a year earlier.

The ABS also said there was an international trade surplus of $7.5 billion in February, declining from the record $9.6 billion surplus in January.

Exports declined one per cent in the month, while imports rose by five per cent.