CANBERRA, AAP – Economists expect the unemployment rate could hit its lowest level in over 13 years when the latest labour figures are released as a result of an easing in infections from the Omicron variant.

The consensus among economists centres on a fall in the unemployment rate to 4.1 per cent when the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases its jobs figures for February on Thursday.

This compares to 4.2 per cent in both December and January, the lowest level since August 2008.

However, forecasts for February range from 4.3 per cent to as low as four per cent.

The jobless rate touched four per cent in February 2008 and August of that year under Kevin Rudd’s Labor government, but has never been lower according to ABS figures stretching back to 1978.

Employment is expected to have risen by 40,000 in February, although forecasts again range from a rise of just 5000 to as high as 60,000.

“Omicron disruptions eased in February as case numbers declined and the impact of the Queensland and NSW floods will not be felt until the March survey,” St George economist Matthew Bunny said.

“The surge in case numbers from the Omicron variant underpinned a sharp fall in hours worked in January, alongside the summer holidays, while employment numbers held up.”

Hours worked in January tumbled by 8.8 per cent or 159 million hours, even as a further 12,900 people joined the workforce.

Both the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury are predicting a sub-four per cent unemployment rate this year, and remaining there in 2023, as the economy makes a steep recovery from the downturns seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Labour shortages have emerged across many industries during the pandemic,” Commonwealth Securities senior economist Ryan Felsman said.

“The re-opening of Australia’s borders is expected to eventually boost Australia’s supply of labour, with more people entering than leaving the country in February.”

The ABS said on Wednesday there were 272,340 overseas arrivals to Australia in February – the highest result since international border restrictions were imposed in March 2020.

There were 178,720 overseas departures from Australia in the month, down from 188,200 in January.