The latest Labour Force Survey from the Central Statistics Office shows that the number of absences from work has fallen to its lowest level since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first quarter of 2022, the number of absences from work, for things such as sick leave, temporary layoffs, family leave and holidays, was recorded at 168,100, a fall of 45.7% compared to the previous year.

The survey shows that the number of people in employment increased by 12.3% to 2,505,800 in the year.

There was also a 17.6% rise in the number of hours worked per week bringing the number to a record high of 80.8 million.

There were 126,700 persons classified as unemployed in the first quarter of 2022 with an associated unemployment rate of 4.8%.

The number of hours worked per week was higher than a year ago in almost all sectors but the hours worked per week in the Accommodation and Food Services sector is still below pre-pandemic levels.

"Employment increased in the year to the first quarter of 2022 across most economic sectors with the largest increase in the Accommodation and Food Service sector," said Sam Scriven, a CSO statistician.

"However, employment in the sector of 162,600 remains below the Q1 2020 level of 169,500," he added.

The Government has welcomed today's CSO figures saying they showed a continued recovery from the pandemic in the labour market.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said it was remarkable that there are now more people employed in the country than at any other point in the history of the state.

"We set a goal to have 2.5m people at work by 2024 and thanks to the incredible fortitude of Irish businesses, their staff, families and communities, we have now exceeded that goal, with 2,505,800 people at work today," Mr Varadkar said.

Speaking on Drivetime, Mr Varadkar said we are almost at the point where there is a job for everyone who wants one, in every part of the country.

"We are starting to see some real results and some good results and getting to the point where we are not far off full employment and that's where there's a job for everyone that wants one in all parts of the country and that's the objective," he said.

He said that a lot of work has gone into trying to achieve balanced regional development and this is still underway.

He said that he wanted to thank the business community and workers for "getting us to this point".

Ireland has "bounced back faster than almost any economy in Europe since the pandemic," he said.

Addressing the issue of staff shortages, Mr Varadkar said the Government will issue more work permits this year than in any other year.

He said the Government is aiming to speed up visa processing times.

The turnaround time for critical skills workers' visas is six weeks, he said.

Meanwhile, general worker permits are taking 16 - 18 weeks, but it is improving and will continue to improve over the coming weeks, he said.

He said that a backlog of more than 10,000 work visa applications from abroad has now been reduced to 6,000.

Mr Varadkar said the number of staff working in this section processing applications has trebled.