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Up to 158,000 employees face lay-offs in Finland

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The number of employees facing redundancy in Finland is rising sharply as companies faced with an economic slowdown caused by measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus start laying off staff, the government said on Tuesday.

The ministry of economic affairs and employment said the number of workers set to enter cooperation negotiations which must by law precede a termination notice had risen by 158,000.

"Majority of the announcements have arrived after March 15." it said in a statement -- since restrictions like a ban on public gatherings were imposed.

The ministry said 1,737 employers with more than 20 employees had announced plans to cut staff but are legally required to negotiate with their employees first. The numbers exclude employers with fewer than 20 staff.

Some 187,000 Finns were out of work in February, with an unemployment rate of 6.6%, Statistics Finland said on Tuesday. Not all of those at risk of losing their jobs would potentially show up in future unemployment data as some layoffs might be temporary.

"According to our recent poll, half of our member companies are going to lay off or even let go employees over the next two months," the Finnish Chamber of Commerce's chief economist Mauri Kotamaki said in a statement.

To halt the spread of coronavirus, Finland has restricted traffic across its borders, closed most schools and called for people to stay at home as much as possible. Like other countries, the government has also put measures in place to support employment and incomes.

Authorities had confirmed 792 coronavirus cases by Tuesday and one death.

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Catherine Evans)