In 2008 UK average labour costs per hour, measured in euros were 20.9. In 2012 they were 21.6 euros. That’s a rise of just 3.3 per cent.
Or let’s use sterling rather than euros as the measure. In 2008 unit labour costs per hour were £16.70.In 2012 they were £17.50, which is a growth rate of 5.2 per cent.
Contrast that with Germany where unit labour costs are up 9.1 per cent. They are much higher too: 30.4 euros in 2012.
In France, unit labour costs have risen 9.5 per cent to 34.2 euros. Of course, Germany has roughly half the unemployment rate of France.
The highest unit labour costs are in Sweden: 39 euros, while Denmark, Luxemburg, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria all have unit labour costs over 30 euros an hour.
Of the 27 counties in the EU, 15 have lower unit labour costs than the UK. They are slightly lower in Cyprus, a lot lower in Greece (14.9 euros), much higher in Ireland (29 euros), lower by the tiniest of margins in Spain, and significantly higher in Italy (27.4 euros).
In terms of growth between 2008 and 2012, only Ireland, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Portugal saw a lower growth rate.
Unit labour costs contracted in Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and –most notably – in Greece, where they have fallen 11.2 per cent.
From an economic point of view, falling unit costs are good in the sense that they provide a country with improved competitiveness. But they are bad in the sense that they are a function of productivity, and wages. That Greek wages are falling so fast may be an indication that the country is gradually becoming more competitive but the resulting depression is really rather nasty.
As for the UK, falling unit labour costs is a sign of poor productivity. But why is UK productivity so low? When you factor in networked readiness it is harder to explain. See: IT readiness: does Finland lead the world for economic potential, is the UK in seventh spot?
What the UK needs is investment. Maybe Vince Cable’s plan for a business bank is the right one. More likely it does not go anyway near far enough.
© Investment & Business News 2013