Unemployment has risen to 2.26m in the first quarter of 2009, the highest since November 1996.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics, covering the period until April, show the jobless rate rose to 7.2%.
Kevin Green, chief executive at the REC, says: “The rise in unemployment is expected, but still troubling. The recruitment industry is committed to providing a route of out of unemployment through temporary, contracting or interim opportunities.
“It has therefore never been more important to ensure that the temporary jobs market is not adversely affected by the introduction of regulations, such as the Agency Workers Directive. This must be delayed until the last possible date in 2011.”
David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, adds: “These jobless figures are slightly better than feared, but the overall situation remains grim.
“It is much too early to talk about the end of recession and it is important not to withdraw the policy stimulus before there is firmer evidence that the economy has stabilised. The government should consider easing harmful labour market regulations that are adding pressure on businesses.”