May 5, 2020 / 11:12 AM / in 24 days

Irish COVID-19 jobless payments steady as more join wage subsidy

FILE PHOTO: An empty street with construction cranes is seen as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Dublin, Ireland, April 25, 2020. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The number of people claiming an emergency coronavirus-related unemployment payment in Ireland rose marginally in the last week as more workers recited a wage subsidy ahead of the gradual reopening of the economy on May 18, data showed on Tuesday.

Ireland’s unemployment rate more than trebled to 16.5% at the end of March including those receiving the higher emergency payment as a result of losing their job due to the disruption. Analysts estimate the jobless rate hit a record 25% in April.

That was due to a doubling of the number of people claiming the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment to 598,000 since the end of March, although the total was up from 591,000 a week ago, the second weekly rise at a more moderate rate, the employment affairs department said.

The unemployment rate, due to be updated next week, does not include workers on the subsidy scheme for impacted companies, where the state agreed in March to pay 70% of wages up to a maximum of 410 euros a week for an initial 12-week period.

The number of employees signed up to the scheme, which Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said last week would likely be extended beyond June, but potentially in a targeted way, rose to 427,400 from 347,094 a week ago, accounting for 52,000 employers.

The state has paid out 785 million euro to date to fund the scheme, an official from Varadkar’s department told a news conference.

Together with recipients of regular jobless benefits, the government is now supporting around half of Ireland’s 2.47 million labour force.

Amid an ongoing weeks-long lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, Ireland laid out a roadmap on Friday for a gradual re-opening of the economy that could allow building sites and some retailers to reopen in two weeks, with restaurants following in June, hotels in July and finally pubs in August.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Alison Williams

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