DUBLIN- Ireland is targeting a return to full employment, where just about everyone who wants a job has one, no later than 2023, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday after data showed hours worked in the economy fell 8.5% last year.
Irish businesses have been shut cumulatively for a longer period than any other European Union country over the last 11 months and have been back in a strict lockdown since late December that is set to run at least into April.
The percentage of people either temporarily or permanently out of work stood at 25% at the end of January. The government says that one-third of those temporarily laid off and in receipt of emergency COVID-19 payments are full-time students, who would not normally be classified as unemployed.
They see the change in hours worked as a reasonable proxy for the impact of the pandemic on the labour market.
The data from the Central Statistics Office showed that the number of hours worked per week in the hardest hit accommodation and food services sector more than halved to just 2.4 million hours at the end of 2020 from 5.2 million a year earlier.
"Today's numbers lay bare the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the economy and employment," Varadkar said in a statement.
"We will need to ensure that we put in place a National Economic Plan to enable a return to full employment no later than 2023."
Ireland was approaching what many economists considered full employment before the pandemic when unemployment fell to a 13-year low of 4.6%.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +353 1 500 1504; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))