The CIPD says unemployment will top three million
UK companies are shedding jobs at an ever-growing rate, says the Chartered Institute of Personnel (CIPD).
Its research suggests more than one in three UK employers are planning to cut jobs in the first three months of 2009.
This is twice as many as planned to make cuts during the final three months of 2008.
"These latest... figures suggest that job prospects are deteriorating at an alarming rate," said CIPD's chief economist John Philpott.
A total of 36% of employers surveyed plan to cut staff in the first quarter of 2009, compared with the 27% that plan to take on additional staff.
This is the first time that a higher proportion of employers plan to cut staff than hire them since the survey began in 2004.
"The labour market outlook is clearly even worse than expected at the turn of the year," added Mr Pilpott.
The research also found that employers will be cutting back on pay increases.
Average pay rises awarded by those firms who plan to increase wages will be 2.6%, compared with the 3.5% recorded last autumn.
And as many as one in eight employers do not intend to conduct pay reviews at all throughout 2009.
Mr Philpott added that official statistics out later this week will show that unemployment rose above 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," he said.
Andrew Smith at KPMG said: "The speed of the deterioration in the labour market is breathtaking."
The Labour Market Outlook survey was conducted by the CIPD and consultancy firm KPMG among 892 UK employers.