Private-sector demand for workers dropped 16 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the last quarter of 2008, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry reported Tuesday. "The job figures for the first quarter of this year point to a continued decline in the demand for workers," Benny Pfefferman, head of the ministry's research and economics division, said in the report. "The pessimistic sentiment among employers, coupled with the continued slowdown in the world economy, points to a rise in the rate of unemployment in the current quarter and in the coming quarters. In the first quarter an average of 15,000 were laid off a month, which is 2.5 times higher than the monthly average in the last quarter of 2008." Some 60,000 workers have lost their jobs since September, he said. The unemployment rate, which rose to 6.8% in January, will rise to at least 7.5% for the first quarter, the report said. The ministry survey was conducted among employers in the business sector. It showed that in the first quarter of this year the average number of available jobs, excluding agriculture and construction, was 20,100 per day, a decline of 16 percent compared with the previous quarter and down 64% compared with the same quarter last year. The biggest decline in the number of available jobs in the first quarter was in the trade and commerce sector (34%), followed by the business-services sector (24%), industrial sector (20%) and the hospitality-services and food sector (17%). Since last September, the number of available jobs fell 56%. During the same period, the number of filled positions fell 11% compared with the previous quarter. The number of laid-off workers increased from 58,000 in the last quarter of 2008 to 83,000 in the current quarter. The report said employers were growing more pessimistic about hiring new staff and more layoffs could be expected in the coming months as economic activity deteriorates. Meanwhile, the Manpower Professional Index, which is based on the Employment Service's quarterly survey of job-vacancy advertisements placed in the Hebrew press, showed that demand for new workers fell 16.2% in the first quarter compared to the previous quarter and 25% compared to the same quarter last year. The survey found that demand for workers in March dropped 3.7% compared with February and was down 27% compared with March 2008. Demand for health-care and nursing staff was down 12.7% in March compared with February, while demand for workers in the catering and hospitality-services sector fell 12.1% during the same period. Demand for workers in the banking and financial sector was down 58.8% in March compared with the same month last year, while demand for workers in the construction sector fell 33.6% in March compared with March 2008.