UPDATE 1-Women bear brunt of end-year job losses in Italy

(Recasts with focus on female job losses, adds quotes, details)

ROME, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Women accounted for nearly all of Italy’s job losses in December, when the country’s unemployment rate rose to 9.0% from a downwardly revised 8.8% in November, national statistics bureau ISTAT said on Monday.

ISTAT said some 101,000 jobs were lost in the final month of 2020, with 99,000 of them due to a fall in employment among women. Over the year as a whole, 312,000 women lost their jobs compared with 132,000 men.

Economists say women in Italy tend to have less secure jobs in areas which have been particularly badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic -- especially tourism and restaurants.

“Houston, we have a problem. Female employment is collapsing,” the CGIL union said in a Tweet, calling for urgent government intervention.

ISTAT said that since February 2020, when the coronavirus first started to batter Italy, the employment rate had fallen 0.9 percentage points, with 426,000 jobs being axed.

Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus, with the outbreak only coming under control thanks to a months-long national lockdown. After a summer lull, infections soared again in October, forcing new government curbs which hit businesses once more.

The official jobless rate plummeted in the original shutdown as people stopped looking for work, hitting a low of 7.4% in April. It rose rapidly once the lockdown ended as Italians returned to the labour market. Only people actively looking for a job count towards the unemployment rate.

ISTAT said that over the last 12 months, the number of people looking for work fell 222,000, or 8.9%.

In December, the youth unemployment rate, measuring job-seekers between 15 and 24 years old, edged up to 29.7% from 29.4% the month before. Italy’s overall employment rate, one of the lowest in the euro zone, slipped to 58.0% from 58.2%.

In an effort to protect jobs during the pandemic, the government last year introduced a ban on companies laying off staff and pumped billions of euros into furlough schemes.

The ban is due to end on March 31 and unions warned that without further intervention, the jobless rate could soar.

“If the ban on redundancies is not extended in the spring we will face a real social time bomb,” said Tania Scacchetti, a top CGIL official.

Highlighting the devastating impact of the coronavirus on the economy, Italy’s gross domestic product is forecast by the government to have fallen 9% last year. Preliminary fourth quarter GDP data is due for release on Tuesday. (Writing by Crispian Balmer, editing by Gavin Jones and Jane Merriman)