April 30, 2020 / 9:26 AM / a month ago

Roughly a quarter of Austria's workforce is in layoff prevention scheme

VIENNA (Reuters) - Roughly 1.2 million people, or about a quarter of Austria’s workforce, are registered for a layoff-prevention scheme under which companies can keep staff on their books and only pay for hours actually worked, the government said on Thursday.

Austria has fared relatively well in the coronavirus pandemic, introducing a lockdown early in its outbreak more than six weeks ago that helped flatten its curve of infections, then starting to reopen shops two weeks ago. Still, joblessness shot up last month to the highest level since the data series began in 1946.

New unemployment figures are due on Monday, and the government said the number of people registered for the so-called kurzarbeit layoff-prevention scheme, about 250,000 a month ago, had kept rising.

“So far roughly 1.2 million people are in kurzarbeit,” conservative Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel told a news conference. Austria’s total workforce is around 4.6 million people.

“Due to the high demand, which is falling a bit but remains sustained, we will top up the funding for kurzarbeit to 10 billion (euros - $10.9 billion),” he said, the latest of several increases. The scheme is part of an aid package of up to 38 billion euros, more than 15 billion of which has been paid out.

Employees registered for it, and who earn less than 5,730 euros ($6,225) a month gross, receive 80%-90% of their salary. The company only pays for hours they have actually worked, and the government makes up the difference.

The number of job-seekers - those registered as unemployed or in training - rose from 562,522 last month to “the high point so far” of 588,205 on April 13, which has since eased to 572,025 on Monday, Labour Minister Christine Aschbacher said.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams and Alex Richardson

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