Record 20,072 Israelis Filed for Unemployment in March

Ben-Eliezer: Employment now top priority; Netanyahu says state will supply Passover aid for needy families.

A record 20,072 people filed for unemployment during the month of March, according to figures released on Sunday by the Employment Bureau.

The monthly figures shattered the previous record marked in January, when the number of new unemployment cases reached 19,719.

Comparatively, only 11,800 people filed for unemployment during March 2008.

The Employment Bureau stressed Sunday that the figures presented in the report represent only employees laid off during March. It said a comprehensive unemployment report would be released only after the Passover holiday, when another wave of dismissals is expected.

The figures released on Sunday show that there has been a sharp rise in the number of files for unemployment since the end of 2008.

14,594 people filed for unemployment in July; 12,704 in August; 15,126 in September; 10,688 in October; 16,450 in November; and 17,499 in December.

Trade Ministers Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, upon receiving the report over the weekend, called the figures "troubling." He said employment would top his list of immediate priorities

"Extensive examination will be undertaken as soon as the next few days, and extensive moves, incorporating all of the market elements - both public and private, will be considered, in an attempt to reverse this trend," Ben-Eliezer added.

Meanwhile, during his debut government meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the state will supply aid for needy families ahead of Passover.

"Together with the finance minister, I will work to improve Israeli citizens' nutritional security," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu added that he "will appoint a head for the health establishment and annul the previous government's decision concerning the construction of a new Prime Minister's Residence, returning with a new, more modest proposal. We're rolling up our sleeves and getting to work."

On Saturday, following a consultation with Welfare Minster Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu instructed the Ministry of Finance to increase aid given to welfare funds by another NIS 6 million, making the total figure NIS 9 million.

Netanyahu said that the increase represented a preliminary, provisional and much needed response to Passover needs.