Australian unemployment rose to a seasonally adjusted 5.2 percent in February, with the slowing economy shedding 15,400 jobs as commodity prices cooled, figures showed Thursday.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics said a drop in part-time work was to blame for the increase from a seasonally adjusted 5.1 percent in January.
Analysts had expected the jobless rate to rise to 5.2 percent but the economy had been tipped to create 5,000 extra jobs.
The Australian dollar plunged to US$1.0540 from $1.0582 on the news, which was seen as increasing the case for an interest rate cut.
The figures follow weaker-than-expected growth of 0.4 percent for the final three months of 2011 due to falling commodity prices and soft investment amid turmoil in Europe and the slowing Chinese economy.
The Reserve Bank of Australia kept official interest rates steady at 4.25 percent this week, saying global conditions had eased and the local economy appeared to be growing close to trend, with unemployment "steady".
But analysts said the soft growth and jobs numbers showed that the rise in the Australian dollar was hurting the non-mining economy, with sectors such as manufacturing, tourism and education under strain.
"We've got some parts of the economy slowing down, other parts speeding up and the net result is that the slow lane is more than offsetting the fast lane," said HSBC economist Paul Bloxham.
Employment Minister Bill Shorten said there had been a "definite slowing in the economy" but the unemployment rate had held relatively steady since August and was very low by global standards.
"Despite the global financial crisis and the aftermath, despite the problems in Europe which are underway at the moment, despite the impact of the local dollar we're seeing that unemployment... hasn't increased as greatly as I think people first feared," Shorten told reporters.
However, he did warn of "further softness in the unemployment numbers in coming months", with a number of large firms including Qantas Airways, ANZ and Westpac banks and carmakers Toyota and Holden recently announcing job cuts.