The commerce industry stands as an important component of the Greek economy, employing 17 percent of its work force last year and creating 87,000 jobs over a five-year period, the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE) noted in its 2002 annual report released yesterday. A total of 675,000 workers were employed in the sector last year, of which 68.4 percent were in the retail trade, 17.5 percent in the wholesale business and the rest in vehicle maintenance and repairs. Female workers made up 40 percent of the workers in commerce, while in the retail segment, their numbers jumped to 48 percent. ESEE also dispelled the myth that the majority of employees in commerce are part-timers, underscoring the lack of enthusiasm among Greeks for a form of employment widespread in the major EU countries. «Full-time employment is the chief form of occupation in the sector and amounts to 96.5 percent. Even in retail trade, part-time jobs do not exceed 4 percent [of the total number of employed],» it said. Part-time employment in the sector in the EU in contrast makes up 22.3 percent of the total number of workers. In the period 1993-2002, the commerce industry created 87,000 new jobs, more than a third of the 233,540 new posts created in the entire economy during that time. Despite its strength, the commerce industry in Greece lags behind its counterparts in other EU countries, with employment in the sector accounting for only 2.9 percent of the EU total. The annual report also pointed to the gloom gripping the industry in 2001 as sales fell in the face of the global recession, geopolitical uncertainties and rising oil prices. Despite this, gross profits in 2001 rose 8.5 percent while operating profits fell 8 percent.