Research revealed that over 36% of employers surveyed plan to make job cuts in the first quarter this year. CIPD’s chief economist John Philpott qualified current figures as alarming, saying: “The labour market outlook is clearly even worse than expected at the turn of the year,”

Only 27% of respondents plan to hire new staff, creating the first negative balance for employment in nearly five years.

Pay increases are likely to be frozen by many employers, with one ine eight employers likely to deny pay reviews to their employees throughout the year.

Philpott predicted even more gloom for the labour market, stating: “”Official statistics later this week will confirm that unemployment passed two million at the end of 2008. It now seems sadly inevitable that UK unemployment will top three million before the jobs market finally starts to recover”.

When awarding pay rises, increases will average at 2.6%, compared to last autumn’s 3.5%.