EU unemployment would double without job support schemes

EU unemployment could almost double to 30 million without an extension of EU and national COVID emergency job support measures, new ETUC research has found. 

There are currently 15.9 million people unemployed in the EU, a number which has increased by 2 million since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in March.

The situation would be significantly worse without national short-time work schemes - supported by the EU’s SURE programme - which ETUC estimates currently protects the jobs and wages of at least 39.6 million workers.  A sudden exit from those measures would put at least 14 million jobs directly at risk, while millions more would see their income fall.

The ETUC has made the warning, based on information gathered from national affiliates, in a letter sent to the finance and employment ministers of all member states.

It comes as member states decide whether to extend short-time work measures. Most have extended their schemes in 2021 but others are scaling it back or still due to end them in the coming months.

The ETUC calls on Employment Ministers to:

  • Extend short-time work schemes until a real economic recovery is underway and employment has stablised
  • Address existing problems with the schemes such as non-coverage of precarious and self-employed workers
  • Ensure workers’ rights to information, consultation and participation is upheld in company restructuring processes

In the letter to the ministers, ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini writes:

“All national and EU emergency measures - particularly those connected to employment protection and income compensation and SURE - must continue for the necessary duration and until the full recovery of the economy and the stabilisation of jobs.

“There is a high risk that the tens of millions of workers who are suspended from work and benefitting from the various employment protection measures put in place by governments, will become unemployed if the gap between the emergency measures and the recovery plan payments is not bridged by appropriate support measures for workers and companies.

“Many governments are, rightly, reintroducing or prolonging support measures, but this is not happening everywhere and not all categories of workers are covered, particularly precarious, non-standard, self-employed workers, as well as fixed term and seasonal workers.

“We appeal to you to consider these requests as a matter of urgency, in order to avoid an unemployment tragedy, from which Europe will not be able to recover.”


The information ETUC has gathered from its affiliates covers 88% of the EU population (and the UK) and was tested against OECD data for consistency,

Our estimates are conservative because: they do not include self-employed people or seasonal workers that will not have the opportunity to be hired, do not take into account the job losses which would be caused by a domino effect produced by shutdowns in supply chains and connected enterprises, do not factor in fix-term jobs that are expiring. Unemployment rates are increasing in large part because of expiring fix-term contracts and this will continue to drive up unemployment.