German employment reaches highest level in 23 years

Fuelling demands by unions for robust wage hikes

BERLIN (Reuters) — German employment is at its highest level since reunification more than 20 years ago, the Statistics Office said, boosting hopes that domestic demand will offset weaker exports in Europe's largest economy.

Some 41.9 million people were employed in Germany in the fourth quarter of 2012 — the highest level in any quarter since East and West Germany reunified in October 1990, according to preliminary estimates from the Statistics Office.

Germany's population has risen in those years, but not substantially.

The employment picture contrasts sharply with the situation in some of Germany's struggling euro zone peers like Greece and Spain, where around one in four people are unemployed.

Staffing levels climbed by 0.8 per cent on the year in the fourth quarter even though the economy contracted by 0.6 per cent. Around three-quarters of the increase in employment was due to service providers taking on new employees.

But employment growth slowed compared with the first, second and third quarters of 2012, when staffing levels increased by 1.4 per cent, 1.2 per cent and 1.1 per cent respectively.

The rise in employment should nonetheless increase private consumption at home, which is expected to be a key pillar of growth for Europe's economic powerhouse this year as the euro zone crisis weakens demand for German products in neighbouring states.

Market research group GfK said private consumption in Germany would rise by one per cent after inflation this year.

High levels of employment are also fuelling demands for robust wage hikes, with unions calling for rises of up to 6.6 per cent this year.

The latest data from Germany's Federal Labour Office showed seasonally adjusted unemployment fell by 16,000 in January, breaking a long run of increases to take the jobless rate down to 6.8 per cent, not far from a post-reunification low.

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