Unemployment rate slowing

Ireland's unemployment rate has now hit over 440,000.

Ireland's unemployment rate has now hit over 440,000.

Official figures showed the unemployment rate in August was 12.4% – with 4,321 new people applying for social welfare.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) also revealed more than 192,000 people have signed on in the last year.

Seasonally adjusted, the figure is almost 429,000 - an increase of 5,400 on July numbers.

However the latest Live Register figures published today show that the rate of increase in the number of jobless slowed down last month.

The Live Register also showed an estimated 37,749 men and 32,354 women were holding down part-time jobs while receiving welfare payments.

The figures from the CSO come after a report yesterday showed the jobless rate in the 16 countries that use the euro climbed to a new 10-year high in July.

Comment on the figures, Ulster Bank said the slowdown should contribute to some welcome easing of the pressures on the public finances.

"Overall, today’s jobs numbers offer further important encouragement that the pace of deterioration in the Irish labour market is continuing to ease back," the bank's Chief Economist Simon Barry noted.

Mr Barry said evidence on the international environment continues to paint a more promising picture, adding that although it would be wrong to be complacent about the outlook, "it is increasingly looking like the absolute worst of this economic contraction may be behind us".

Employers' representatives however reiterated their calls for the Government to take immediate action to tackle unemployment.

While acknowledging that the trend in the numbers is slowing, the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) said there is still a serious crisis in the labour market that requires immediate government attention.

"Once again, the increasing number of redundancies and people ‘signing on’ highlights the ongoing difficulties being faced by businesses in their attempts to survive the current downturn," said ISME Chief Executive Mark Fielding.

"The indications are that the labour market will continue to deteriorate, albeit at a slower pace, with thousands more jobs at risk."

The association called for the urgent implementation of a national employment strategy, with measures to include a cut in employers' PRSI, an extension of the current Employment Subsidy Scheme and the introduction of an 'inability to pay' clause for companies who cannot afford to pay rates of pay outlined under current employment agreements.

The director of the Small Firms' Association Patricia Callan also called for government measures to stem the tide of unemployment.

“Ireland cannot afford to keep losing an average of 343 jobs a day for the rest of the year, particularly in the context that our ability to create new jobs has been severely damaged by losses to competitiveness in recent years," Ms Callan said.

“What we need now is decisive action by Government to help businesses regain cost-competitiveness and thus make it possible for them to survive without eliminating the only cost within their direct control, i.e. the cost of labour."

The SFA also called for a cut in employers' PRSI as part of its recommendations to deal with the crisis, as well as the introduction of a government-backed loan/equity guarantee scheme to enable small businesses avail of credit facilities.

IBEC meanwhile described the slowdown as "encouraging" and said it hoped the Temporary Employment Subsidy Scheme would reinforce the trend.

While also welcoming the slowdown, the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU) echoed calls for government action and said the crisis should be the country's number one priority.

"2009 has been a disastrous year for job losses and this looks set to continue for the rest of the year unless urgent action is taken to keep people in their jobs," said John Stewart, INOU Co-ordinator.

Youth Work Ireland meanwhile warned that ignoring the needs of the 95,000 young people claiming benefits could do enormous long term damage to Ireland and its economy.

Spokesman Michael McLoughlin said youth unemployment needs special attention to stop a whole generation being cast aside.

“If young people drift into long term unemployment in substantial numbers it may be hard to rescue that situation when any recovery occurs,” he added.

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