Concerns are growing that the number of redundancies will continue to rise as the furlough scheme tapers off over the next few months.
While the latest payroll data reveals the number of employees has now surpassed pre-Covid levels, there was a sharp rise in the number of proposed redundancies in the first two weeks of July.
And those payroll figures include 59,000 people still on furlough, which is being wound down and is due to end entirely in October.
During June, 300 redundancies were confirmed, out of 490 initially proposed, bringing the annual total to 6,180, the highest in two decades.
A further 850 have been proposed in July, according to figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). This is a sharp increase from 150 in May.
Only firms with 20 or more employees have to issue redundancy notices and confirmations. The concern is that those still on furlough are more at risk of redundancy or job loss.
“While much of the economy is now open, some sectors are still closed and mitigations mean that many businesses are restricted in how they can operate," said Roger Pollen, head of the Federation of Small Businesses.
“The furlough scheme has been a lifeline for many firms, which has enabled them to retain skills and talent within the business.
“Unfortunately, increasing levels of employer contributions under the scheme from July may make it unviable for some businesses to continue to furlough employees.
"Regrettably, this may be reflected in increased redundancies, particularly if some restrictions continue to be in place.”
The number of employees receiving pay through HMRC PAYE in NI in June 2021 was 757,200, an increase of 1.4% over the month and 2.6% over the year. It is the highest on record and the first time that employee numbers were above pre-COVID levels.
In June 2021, the seasonally adjusted total number of people claiming benefits was 51,200 (5.2% of the workforce), a decrease of 2,000, or 3.8%, from the previous month’s and 17.0% below June 2020.
But it is still remains almost 70% above the number recorded in March 2020.
Overall, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, that is as a proportion of economically active people, for the period March-May 2021 is estimated at 3.6%, the lowest of any region in the UK.
The economic inactivity rate, the proportion of people aged 16 to 64 not working and not seeking or available, decreased over the quarter by 0.4% and over the year by 0.1%, but is still the highest in the UK at 27.1%.
"Put into the context of the UK, NI had the lowest unemployment rate, the lowest employment rate and the highest economic inactivity rate of all the UK regions," the report concludes.
Earnings from the HMRC PAYE indicated that Northern Ireland employees had a median monthly pay of £1,822 in June 2021, an increase of £8 (0.4%) over the month and £97 (5.6%) over the year.
Data for June reveals that the number of employees is ahead of pre-COVID levels for the first time, 0.7% above the peak in February 2020 and the highest on record.
Provisional HMRC data show the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme supported 59,000 jobs at the end of May, a decrease from 93,000 supported jobs at the end of April and half the number in January.
The HMRC payroll data is described as "the most timely and best single, overall indicator of the labour market".