Jobless rate no reason to celebrate - CTU

News that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in nearly nine years is hardly cause for celebration, say unions.

It's now 4.8 percent, the lowest since National came to power - down from 4.9 percent in March.

But Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff says it's been "stuck in a rut" around the 5 percent mark for years now.

"Look under the veneer there - 10 years ago we had 3.3 percent unemployment, today we've got just under five and it's been sitting around that number for a long time," he told The AM Show on Friday.

"If we had 3.3 percent now, we'd have 40,000 less unemployed than we have today."

In the wake of the global financial crisis, unemployment doubled between 2008 and 2013. It has since been trending downwards, occasionally dipping below 5 percent.

Mr Wagstaff said working people are becoming "immune" to the Government's inability to get it back down to pre-crisis levels.

"We're starting to think this is the new normal and we should be happy with this rate, and these are the good times. In our view they're nowhere near as good as they were 10 years ago."

Low unemployment usually drives up wages as employers struggle to fill positions. Mr Wagstaff says the lack of wage growth in the past year is proof unemployment is still too high.

Wages rose 1.6 percent in the 12 months, compared to a 2.2 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index in the year to March - largely thanks to rising petrol, tobacco and housing costs.

Mr Wagstaff also notes the number of new jobs added in the last year - 75,000 - is about the same as net migration.

"We need migrants to fill gaps, but we should also be using New Zealanders who want to work to fill those gaps."

He says many of the new jobs are also precarious and on casual contracts - so workers aren't in a position to demand better pay.