It is over four times costlier to employ someone in Western Europe than in the East, according to a new survey.

Highest employment costs are in Belgium, Sweden and Germany; the lowest in Latvia and Lithuania.

The UK is the fifth most expensive country in the EU and employment costs are 40 per cent more than in the US.

The survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, the world's largest employee benefits consultancy, said Belgium's average employment costs were as much as £36,507 while Latvia's were just £3,239. The average cost of employment across all EU states was £19,262.

"The survey highlights the competitive advantage that Eastern EU countries have over the West," said Mark Sullivan, worldwide partner at Mercer. "It is unsurprising that more companies are now moving their operations to Eastern Europe where employment costs are so much lower."

The UK's employment costs have gradually increased over the last two years and are now £31,713, 40 per cent higher than in the US.

On average, employment costs in the EU are around 15 per cent less than in the US. But, taking Eastern EU countries out of the equation, costs in Western European countries are 23 per cent higher.

"With the strength of the pound and euro against the dollar, there are concerns about whether US companies will continue to invest in the EU," said Mr Sullivan.

Total benefit costs, including social security, mandatory benefits and occupational pensions, range from less than ten per cent of national average pay to as much as 50 per cent.