THE unemployment rate dropped to 24,3percent in the last quarter of 2009 - from 24,5percent in the third quarter.

A total of 870000 jobs in South Africa were lost last year, while just over 200000 job opportunities were created through the extended public works programme - falling short of President Jacob Zuma's promise of 500000 jobs through the same programme.

While a slight decline in unemployment was recorded for the fourth quarter of 2009, there was still "room for improvement", Cosatu said yesterday.

Stats SA released the 4th quarter labour force survey yesterday, which noted a "slight" increase of 61000 jobs created between the third and last quarters of the year.

However, the number of people discouraged to seek employment increased by more than 500000 in the last quarter compared to the same period the previous year.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the increase was "insignificant" as SA's unemployment rate remained within the same 24percent levels.

"We are now worried by an increase in the number of discouraged job seekers and the dominance of casual and low-quality jobs created."

He said his trade federation would still be campaigning "just as hard" for alternative policies geared towards job creation.

"We also hope that in the forthcoming State of the Nation address, the government will stick to policies outlined in last year's ANC election manifesto - and will be looking for more concrete proposals with regard to improving the public service system and increasing employment," Craven said.

Economist Mike Schussler said the small decline in unemployment was a sign that the economy was on a "recovery cycle".

"From the latest figures, we see a lot of people making plans for themselves after the economic recession, with an increase in jobs created in the informal sector, and this shows that our economy is starting to turn," he said.