Despite Western Australia’s unemployment rate falling to 5.9 per cent in February – down from 6.9 per cent – WA still retains the unenviable position of having the second highest unemployment rate in the country.

Even though unemployment has decreased by 1 per cent over the month, 0.8 per cent of that fall is because 11,000 people have stopped looking for work in WA. Total employment in WA has continued to fall for the fifth consecutive month in trend terms and this should ring alarm bells.

Youth unemployment also remains the second highest in the country at 15.2 per cent, equal to South Australia, which means over 33,000 young West Australians who want a job are unable to find one. 123,400 West Australians remain underemployed and want more work. 84,300 West Australians are unemployed.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten did not seek to reassure WA workers that their jobs wouldn’t be put at risk yesterday when confronted with the fact that 76 per cent of WA businesses had indicated they would be forced to lay off workers, reduce existing workers’ hours or delay hiring new workers if a future Federal Labor Government implements the ACTU’s proposed 11 per cent minimum wage increase.

Instead, he doubled down on his attack on businesses and dismissed the small business feedback as a “fairy tale”.

At a time when the WA Government is trying to achieve its 150,000 jobs target and trend employment in the State has fallen for five consecutive months, Federal Labor should be listening to WA small businesses when they explain that the east coast and WA are experiencing very different business conditions.

An average annual growth in employment of about 2 per cent is required over the target period to achieve the WA Government’s objective. Given employment has grown at just 1.1 per cent per year on average for the past decade, this is already a bold target, without Federal Labor and big unions putting it further at risk by forcing unsustainable wage rises that small business cannot afford.

Small businesses in WA have made it clear that if Federal Labor implements the ACTU’s living wage proposal it would cost WA jobs and push unemployment higher. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Federal Labor must now act to reassure WA workers and job seekers by ruling out this ill-conceived policy altogether.