ZURICH, June 9 (Reuters) - Switzerland's jobless rate rose slightly in May to 3.4%, while the number of people working shorter hours was up sharply in March when the country went into lockdown to limit the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic.
The Swiss unemployment rate rose to a non-seasonally adjusted 3.4% in May - compared with an average 2.3% in 2019 and 3.3% in April - with 156,000 people registered as jobless, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said on Tuesday.
SECO also gave an update on the shorter working hours scheme the government pushed to limit job losses linked to the coronavirus pandemic. In March, 782,436 people worked shorter hours, up from just over 4,000 in February, with 97,432 companies concerned the measure.
SECO's labour specialist said last month the government expects the cost of jobless benefits and short-time working compensation arising from the coronavirus crisis to jump to some 20 billion francs from 6-7 billion normally.
The COVID-19 respiratory disease has killed 1,661 people in Switzerland, with nearly 31,000 people testing positively, although the infection rate has slowed allowing the government to begin relaxing restrictions.
For 2020 as a whole, SECO expects the unemployment to rise, forecasting an average jobless rate of 3.9%, up from 2.3% in 2019 and its highest level since 2004.
The rate in December is now expected to be significantly more than 4%, with well over 200,000 jobless in the affluent Alpine republic. (Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Michael Shields Editing by Madeline Chambers)