The number of online job advertisements posted on Australian Web sites fell sharply in February, according to the latest Olivier Job Index.

The index, which records the number of jobs advertised on Australia’s main employment classifieds sites, fell over the month by a seasonally adjusted 9.08 percent.

The February weekly average of 247,800 jobs on major Australian job boards was also down 5.9 percent on the number recorded one year earlier.

Olivier’s data showed that the biggest reductions in job ads came in trades and services (down 20.33 percent), administration (down 16.86 percent) and building and construction (down 15.15 percent). Transport and engineering were also hit hard, both recording decreases of over 13 percent.

“All the economic bad news has had a damaging effect on business confidence, despite the rate cuts and government economic stimulus,” said Robert Olivier, Olivier Group director.

“It’s gone from a white-collar recession through to a blue-collar recession. We’re seeing the effect of cutbacks in the car industry and apparel.”

Financial services and banking and legal both recorded minor increases in the number of advertisements placed, possibly supporting the theory that the current decline is hitting trades and unskilled occupations more than professionals.

South Australia recorded the biggest relative fall in the number of ads placed at 16.13 percent. However, those states that experienced a sharp increase in the number of blue-collar jobs during the recent minerals boom was hard hit over February, with Queensland recording a 15.08 percent decrease and Western Australia down 14.51 percent.

Meanwhile, Victoria recorded only a modest 1.92 percent fall and New South Wales also remained reasonably steady, with a fall of just 4.64 percent.

Olivier said that when read overall, the latest figures indicated a more severe slowing in Australia’s employment market than anything he had seen since Olivier started its job index in September 2005.

“This is a more damning figure than January’s 12.64 percent fall, although that was the worst ever recorded,” he said.

“February is traditionally the month when the market rebounds to November levels of job ads, after the seasonal Christmas and summer downturn.”

“In November we averaged 317,381 job ads per week, but by the last week in February we counted just 240,924. Even worse, the first week of February had started with 256,060 job ads and that fell consistently over the four weeks.”

Olivier also said that the major employment classifieds sites had reported that job-seekers visiting their sites had become more active, indicating there was now an imbalance in the job marketplace.

“That effect may have pushed the job ad figures down a little – because more people are looking for work recruiters aren’t running job ads as long as they needed to when the market was tight.”