By Sophie Boot
New Zealand workers became more optimistic about their job prospects in the December quarter, with employees feeling more secure and expecting future pay rises.
However, confidence remained well down on sentiment a year earlier as unemployment moves higher, with people only slightly less gloomy about their current employment conditions.
The Westpac-McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Index rose 2.2 points to 101.5 in December, gaining from the three-year low it reached in the September quarter.
A reading above 100 indicates optimists outweigh pessimists.
The present conditions index rose to 94.2 from 92.9 and the employment expectations index advanced to 106.4 from 103.6.
Westpac Banking Corp senior economist Anne Boniface warned against getting carried away, saying overall confidence levels are still "well down from what we saw in 2014, indicating that workers have not entirely stopped fretting about employment conditions".
The index had hit 111.5 in the September quarter of 2014, as confidence in Canterbury buoyed the nation's outlook.
Canterbury has seen a marked deterioration in employment expectations, down 4.8 points to 103.7 in the latest survey.
Ms Boniface said this was consistent with Westpac's view that reconstruction work has peaked, and workers realise jobs may not be quite as plentiful in the future as they are now.
Nationwide unemployment - which hit 6 percent in the September quarter and is expected to peak at 6.5 percent this year - has coincided with lower confidence this year, Ms Boniface said.
All regions became more confident in December, apart from Canterbury, Wellington and Waikato, with the Waikato now recording the lowest level of confidence in the country, at 93.7.
Auckland was the most confident region in the country, with a reading of 105.9.
The survey's measure of current job opportunities remained firmly pessimistic about job availability, improving only slightly to a net negative 33.3 percent from 33.5 percent in the September survey.