More than 1,000 people a month joined the dole queue over the last year.
Official figures showed a total of 309,000 people were unemployed by March - up 13,300 in the previous 12 months.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said the long-term unemployed - people who have not held a job in a year - now account for 60% of those out of work.
ISME, the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association, raised concerns and described the current unemployment situation as disastrous.
Mark Fielding, chief executive, said: "The continuous increase in unemployment and in particular the long-term unemployed clearly demonstrates that the Government's job strategy is not working. Much more action is required on the jobs crisis to arrest the savage loss of jobs."
The latest Quarterly National Household Survey found almost 2.1 million people were of work age in the first quarter, down 4,800 over the year. Of those, 1.786 million were employed - an 18,100 drop over the previous year.
ISME called on the Government to introduce a jobs initiative to subsidise employment, to address the bank credit crisis, and to reform the social welfare system to make it worthwhile to work and come off the dole.
"While the Government cannot create jobs its responsibility is to foster an environment in which jobs can be created," said Mr Fielding. "Now is the time to prime pump the economy with a jobs initiative that subsidises employers for each additional job created. That action will encourage confidence and stimulate consumer spend, starting the recovery process."
Sinn Fein's Peadar Toibin said that after 450 days in office, the Government was clearly failing the working generation. "Behind each of these figures there is an individual, and often a family," he said. "These figures are a shocking indictment of a Government which fought an election campaign and then a referendum campaign on the basis of jobs. It puts pay to the nonsense of the vacuous spin that jobs are a priority of this Government. The record of the last 450 days of Government speaks for itself."
Marie Sherlock, an economist with trade union Siptu, raised concerns about the growing problem of long-term unemployment. "It is now more important than ever that all stakeholders in Irish society prioritise investment plans which seek to maximise job creation," she added.