Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis, the government’s most embattled minister over the key issue of social security reform this year, took heart from the latest encouraging unemployment figures yesterday. The National Statistics Service (ESYE) announced that the number of jobless people in the fourth quarter of 2000 stood at 471,800, or 10.7 percent, against 553,000, or 12.4 percent, in the same quarter a year earlier. The systematic fight against unemployment and for the creation of new jobs at last seems to be bearing considerable fruit after at least two decades of a continuous rise of unemployment, Yiannitsis said. The average annual rate of unemployment fell from 11.9 percent in 1999 to 11.1 percent in 2000, the same as for 1998, according to ESYE data. The significant fall is due to the continuously high growth rates, investment and the employment policies we have pursued, Yiannitsis said. The welcome development was accompanied by simultaneous falls in the country’s labor force and those seeking employment. In relation to the end of 1999, the number of those aged over 15 working or seeking work fell by about 45,000, bringing the total labor force to a historically low 49.5 percent of the population. In relation to 1999, women’s unemployment fell by 44,300 individuals, or 2.5 percent, and of men by 36,900, or 1.3 percent. However, the gender gap in the respective unemployment rates remained high, 16.1 percent for women and 7 percent for men. While the airport can handle the extra costs for the moment – via cost-cutting measures in other areas to offset the burden – it might eventually turn to the state for assistance, Mitscherlich said.