Job cuts in the tech sector hit their highest quarterly total since 2003, global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said Monday.

Heavy job cutting in the telecommunications and computer sectors pushed first-quarter job cuts to 59,537, up 3.2 percent from the previous quarter and more than double the number of cuts in the year-ago period, the Challenger report said.

“The biggest factor pushing tech job cuts to a five-quarter high was a surge in corporate combinations in the telecom sector, which resulted in over 3,000 job cuts in February,” said John Challenger, the company’s chief executive.

“In fact, 92 percent of the first-quarter telecom job cuts resulted from mergers,” he added.

Telecommunication firms led all tech-sector job losses in the period with 35,079 job cuts, more than double the pace of job cutting in the computer industry.

Losses in the tech sector account for 20.7 percent of all job cuts in the first quarter, the report said, adding that tech-sector job cuts could rise in the near term.

“Consumers and companies have been gobbling up new technology in the last 12 to 24 months … Their technology cup is overflowing, which may lead to a cooling off period until a major technology breakthrough comes along,” Challenger said.

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