Number of Austrian job-seekers falls below 500,000

VIENNA (Reuters) - The number of Austrian job-seekers has fallen below half a million for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic pushed unemployment to the highest level recorded since World War Two, Labour Minister Christine Aschbacher said on Tuesday.

The government has taken to reporting unemployment figures weekly rather than monthly. Unemployment stood at 11.5% at the end of May by a national measure, having eased from a peak above 12% in mid-April as the country’s lockdown was loosened.

A week after that data was reported it has fallen further, Aschbacher said. The number of job-seekers fell to 492,616, of whom 447,143 were registered as unemployed and the rest were in training. At the end of May there were 517,221 job-seekers.

“For the first time since the corona crisis, we have fewer than 500,000 people looking for work in Austria,” Aschbacher told a news conference.

Aschbacher did not specify where the unemployment rate now stood, but said the number of people in the so-called kurzarbeit layoff prevention scheme had also fallen.

“We see overall that the curve of employees in kurzarbeit is flattening, the companies are moving out of kurzarbeit step by step and towards more and full employment, and more and more companies are able to switch to normal operations,” she said.

The kurzarbeit scheme enables companies to keep staff on their books and only pay for hours actually worked, with the state topping that up to 80%-90% of the normal net salary.

The number of people registered for that scheme had fallen to 1,161,045 from 1,371,338 at the end of May. Aschbacher said last week that many people would be moving out of the scheme at the end of the month.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Catherine Evans