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The demand for workers in the private sector is only getting worse, says the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, despite more optimistic numbers earlier this week from the Employment Service.

There were an average of 20,100 jobs on offer on any given day in the first quarter of 2009, excluding agriculture and construction, show ministry figures. This is 15.9% lower than the last quarter of 2008, and 64.1% below the first quarter of last year. Since the worsening of the present economic crisis in September 2008, demand has dropped 56%.

The Employment Service released numbers this week saying demand for new workers rose 16% in March. It seems this rise is only temporary, and came due to the need for more temporary workers before and during the Passover holiday, mostly in sales.

Some 15,000 workers were fired every month in the first three months of this year: two and a half times the figure from the last quarter of 2008. Since September 2008, 60,000 workers have lost their jobs - almost all in the private sector.

Benny Feferman, the head of Economic and Manpower Planning in the ministry, yesterday said the number of workers finding jobs fell 11% in the first quarter of 2009, while the number losing their jobs, whether fired or voluntarily, rose 2%. This translates into a net loss of 31,700 jobs for the quarter. The losses covered the entire private sector, large and small businesses alike.

Manpower Israel's figures for March also contradict the Employment Service. Demand for new workers was down 3.7% from February, but was down 27% from last March, said Manpower CEO Orna Segal. The fall in demand came in all sectors, except for teachers and telecoms.

The high-tech unemployed also have no reason for optimism yet: The Internet job board Jobby said the number of high-tech jobseekers grew 53% in March and the first half of April, compared to the same period in 2008. At the same time, the number of high-tech jobs offered on Jobby plummeted 42%. Employers are having an easier time filling open positions, and the average time jobs are unfilled dropped to only 2.9 weeks in the first quarter of 2009, down from 3.3 weeks in the last quarter of 2008, ministry figures showed.

Fewer people left of their own volition too, with only 45.7% of the newly unemployed doing so voluntarily, down from 60.1% at the end of 2008. "This finding is worrying, since it shows workers have less faith in their ability to change jobs on their own initiative," said Feferman. "In addition, we assume that most of those leaving at the employer's initiative will find it difficult to find new work with similar conditions," he aded.