EU labour market in the first quarter 2020: Absences from work at record high

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    The first quarter 2020 is the first quarter in which the labour market across the European Union (EU) has been affected by COVID-19 measures taken by Member States. Employment and unemployment as defined by the ILO concept are, in this particular situation, not sufficient to describe all the developments taking place in the labour market. In this first phase of the crisis, active measures to contain employment losses led to absences from work rather than dismissals, and individuals could not search for work or were not available due to the containment measures, thus not counting as unemployed according to the ILO concept. 

    In this release, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, is publishing a set of additional seasonally adjusted quarterly indicators which help to capture the most recent movements on the labour market in the 27 EU Member States.

    These additional indicators include total labour market slack, which comprises all persons who have an unmet need for employment either because they are unemployed according to the ILO definition, are close to unemployment while not fulfilling all ILO criteria, or are working part-time and would like to work additional hours. Further, absences from work broken down by reason are published, as well as an index of total actual hours worked in the main job.More new indicators onrecent job leavers and starters, as well as weekly total absences and transitions out of employment are published in the Eurostat database.

    Labour market slack increased by 0.3 percentage points in first quarter 2020 compared to fourth quarter 2019, employment stable

    In the first quarter of 2020, 190.9 million persons in the EU were employed. The EU seasonally adjusted employment rate for people aged 20-64 stood at 73.3%, unchanged compared to the fourth quarter 2019 and up from 73.0% in the first quarter 2019. 12.8 million persons were unemployed and the EU seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.3%, down from 6.4% in the fourth quarter 2019 and from 6.7% in the first quarter 2019. At the same time, seasonally adjusted total labour market slack in the EU, consisting in unmet demand for labour, amounted to 26.8 million persons, which represented 12.7% of the extended labour force in the first quarter 2020, up from 12.4% in the fourth quarter of 2019. This was the first quarter-on-quarter increase since the peak in the second quarter 2013, when the labour market slack had stood at 19.0%.

    Labour market slack increased most in Latvia, Luxembourg, Germany and Estonia

    Among the Member States, overall labour market slack increased in 16 countries, dropped in 9 countries and remained stable in Bulgaria and Spain. In Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden both overall labour market slack and unemployment, in percentage of the extended labour force, increased. In Ireland labour market slack increased and unemployment remained stable. In Croatia, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal overall labour market slack increased and unemployment decreased. In Malta and Romania overall labour market slack decreased while unemployment increased. In Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Greece, France, the Netherlands and Poland both overall labour market slack and unemployment decreased. No changes in either indicator were recorded in Bulgaria, and in Spain only unemployment increased slightly.

    4.3 million more employed persons were absent from work in the first quarter 2020 compared to the fourth quarter 2019

    In the first quarter 2020, a total of 22.9 million persons were absent from work in the EU, an increase of 4.3 million compared to the fourth quarter 2019. This increase is to a large extent due to a sharp increase in temporary
    lay-offs, which rose from 0.3 million persons to 2.3 million persons.

    Among the Member States for which data are available, the highest rates of absences from work in the first quarter 2020 were observed in France (18.1%), Sweden (16.2%) and Austria (15.0%) and the lowest rates in Romania (2.5%), Malta (3.3%), and Bulgaria (4.4%). In comparison to the fourth quarter 2019, all Member States except Finland experienced a rise in overall absences from work. Absences due to temporary lay-offs rose in all Member States for which data is available, and increased more than tenfold in France, Cyprus and Spain. 

    Sharp fall of hours worked in the first quarter 2020

    Total actual hours worked have dropped sharply in the EU between the fourth quarter 2019 and the first quarter 2020, but have not reached the low values observed during the debt crisis. The levels of total actual hours worked are influenced by the total number of persons working, as well as the number of hours worked by each of these persons. Women have been harder hit than men, with a drop from 108 to 102 index points between the fourth quarter 2019 and the first quarter 2020, compared to a drop of 98 to 93 for men. In the first quarter 2020, total actual hours worked were nevertheless above the level of 2006 for women but lower for men.

    All Member States for which data are available experienced a drop in total actual hours worked between the fourth quarter 2019 and the first quarter 2020 except Finland (+0.2%). The highest overall falls were observed in Italy (-9.7%), Slovakia (-8.7%), and Austria (-7.9%).