(Adds comments by labor secretary and Economy Ministry, background, bylines)
By Jamie McGeever and Marcela Ayres
BRASILIA, April 28 (Reuters) - Unemployment insurance claims in Brazil jumped nearly 14% in the first two weeks of April from the preceding fortnight, official figures showed on Tuesday, reflecting the coronavirus-related hit to jobs in Latin America’s largest economy.
This followed a rise of more than 10% from February to March, as lockdown and a sudden halt to economic activity wiped out much of the labor market’s gains and improvements in the first couple of months of the year.
Economy Ministry officials insisted that measures to reduce workers’ hours and salaries during the pandemic are protecting jobs. Work and Pensions Secretary Bruno Bianco said on Monday that up to 4 million jobs have been saved.
But in a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Labor Secretary Bruno Dalcolmo admitted that there will be a “considerable” loss of jobs in the coming months.
Dalcolmo also said the government’s program to reduce workers’ hours and salaries will result in an average wage cut of around 15%.
According to an Economy Ministry presentation on Tuesday, formal unemployment insurance claims in the first two weeks of April totaled to 267,693, up 13.8% from the last two weeks of March.
That was down 13.8% from the same period a year ago, however, while the year-to-date total to mid-April was down 8.7% at 1.83 million claims.
But that was due to the strengthening labor market in the first two months of the year when national unemployment was between 11% and 11.6%, as much as almost a full percentage point lower than the same period in 2019.
Jobless insurance claims in March this year rose 11% from February to 536,845, Economy Ministry figures showed. (Reporting by Marcela Ayres and Jamie McGeever Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)