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Despite headlines telling of layoffs in every sector, in reality unemployment didn't budge in November compared with the previous month.

Joblessness stayed steady at 5.9% of the workforce in November, unchanged from October, the Central Bureau of Statistics said yesterday. That figure means that 175,000 people are out of work and actively seeking jobs.

From May to September 2008, unemployment was 6%.

However, the indicators are not good. In parallel, the Central Bureau of Statistics said that demand for workers in the business sector plunged in the last quarter of the year as did the number of available jobs.

Benny Pfefferman, head of the Research, Planning and Economics Administration at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, warns that the "employment balance" turned negative in the last three months of 2008 for the first time since late 2003. And what that means is that more people are being fired than hired.

Moreover, the slump in demand for new workers encompasses all sectors without exception, and big companies aren't hiring any more than small businesses are.

"For the first time in four years, expectations among employers for the months to come regarding economic developments and hiring have turned negative," Pfefferman said.

Workers realize the situation as evident in another statistic: the number of people leaving jobs voluntarily (quitting, not fired) out of all jobs left plunged to 40% in the last quarter, compared with 68% in the third quarter.