UK lockdown squeezes demand for workers in February - REC

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FILE PHOTO: A person looks at advertisements in the window of a job agency in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's coronavirus lockdown squeezed demand for staff last month, with spending on temporary workers growing at its slowest rate in seven months, a survey of employment agencies showed on Friday.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation said overall demand for staff had stabilised at a lower level after falling sharply in February, with a further decline in permanent hiring.

"The jobs market remains on hold with hiring decisions stalled, people reluctant to seek new roles and the growth in temporary billings has also slowed," said James Stewart, vice chair of accountants KPMG, who sponsor the survey.

On Wednesday finance minister Rishi Sunak extended the government's furlough scheme - currently supporting around one in five private-sector workers at a cost of 53.8 billion pounds so far - until the end of September.

Schools in England will start to readmit pupils from Monday but the government does not expect to fully lift social distancing restrictions until late June.

Jobs in nursing and medical care continued to be the fastest-growing sector, while demand for hospitality and catering staff remained very weak, the REC survey showed.

Separately, equalities minister Liz Truss urged employers to allow flexible working patterns that have become common during the pandemic to become standard practice where possible, to make it easier for those with family commitments to stay in work.

"Now is a chance to seize the opportunity of making flexible working the norm, rather than something employees have to specially request," she said.

Government research based on 780,000 job postings with recruiter Indeed had shown that jobs which clearly advertised flexible working was possible attracted 30% more applicants.

(Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Andy Bruce)