The recession NI was already facing has been made 10 times worse by Covid-19, a committee has heard.
Stormont’s economy committee has been hearing from economists on how the pandemic has affected economic growth.
Ulster Bank Chief Economist Richard Ramsey said Covid-19 would impact the “scale” of the recession.
“If we compare this to the last recession, it took six years for economic output to fall by 10%,” he said.
“This time we are expecting a fall of 25-30% in a single quarter.”
Asked about how long the recovery will take, Mr Ramsey says we are currently “in the eye of the storm” of the economic impact and that he expects recovery to take four or five years until late 2024/early 2025.
Trade unions have previously raised concerns about the government’s job retention scheme coming to an end next month.
Economist Paul MacFlynn from the Nevin Economic Research Institute said there needs to be a move from protecting jobs to protecting workers as some jobs may be lost permanently.
“We are going to have a large section of the labour force which isn’t able to find work readily as some economic activity has been removed,” he said.
Mr MacFlynn said the focus must shift towards retraining, as it is not fair to give people the impression they will have jobs to go back to if they do not.
“I think the first thing is we need to protect their incomes in a way that goes from preserving relationships with their employer which furlough does, to assuming responsibility for getting them back to work,” he added.