Scotland has recorded a slight increase in employment since the last quarter, new figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the employment rate for those aged 16 to 64 between September and November was 74.4%, a 0.5% increase on the figure for the previous quarter.
In comparison with the other UK regions it was the joint largest increase in the rate estimates for the period, along with the South West of England.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate among those aged 16 and over in Scotland was 4.4% – 0.1% down on June to August.
Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “HMRC early estimates for December 2020 for Scotland, also published this morning, show that there were 2.3 million payrolled employees in Scotland, increasing by 9,000 compared with November, however 67,000 lower than a year ago.
“These figures still do not reflect the full impact of coronavirus or outlook for employment as the Job Retention Scheme continues to play an important role in supporting employers and employees.
“Combined with the huge economic uncertainty caused by Brexit, this remains an extremely uncertain time for the economy and jobs.
“The Scottish Government continues to support employers, allocating over £3 billion to help businesses since the start of this pandemic.
“We are taking every step within our power to create a stronger, more resilient, sustainable economy for Scotland and this week the Finance Secretary will set out the next budget which will outline our plans to support the Scottish economy going forward.”
The UK unemployment rate for those aged 16 and over increased to 5%, up 0.6% on the previous three months, while the employment rate for those aged 16-64 fell by 0.4% to 75.2%.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “This crisis has gone on far longer than any of us hoped – and every job lost as a result is a tragedy.
“While the NHS is working hard to protect people with the vaccine, we’re throwing everything we’ve got at supporting businesses, individuals and families.
“Our Plan for Jobs includes grants and loans so that firms can keep employees on, the furlough scheme to help protect jobs, and programmes like Kickstart alongside record investment in skills so that people can find their first job, their next job or a new job if needed.”
Dr Stuart McIntyre, head of research at the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde, described the latest figures as “quite a different picture of the health of the economy and labour market than what we are all experiencing in real time”.
He added: “Scratch below the surface of the headline data and we can see real and widespread challenges emerging.
“From nearly 100,000 more people in Scotland claiming unemployment-related benefits than before the pandemic, to the nearly nine million fewer hours being worked each week in Scotland compared to a year ago.
“And remember that nearly 200,000 jobs were still furloughed in Scotland at the end of October, down from 500,000 in July, but still representing over 7% of all jobs in Scotland.
“While the beginning of a shakeout in the labour market is already under way, by far its largest impacts will be realised when the furlough scheme finally closes, currently scheduled for the end of April this year.
“What measures are put in place to support those who do not return to their old job when they come off furlough, alongside what measures are taken to stimulate the economy, will be key to how large and persistent the subsequent unemployment crisis becomes.”