Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas said yesterday the reality of unemployment and poverty in Greece was actually better than portrayed by official statistics. Speaking at the ruling PASOK party’s special congress on the results of the recent EU spring summit, he said although the country had a higher unemployment rate than the EU average, its higher rate of people in full-time (as distinct from part-time) employment meant it was on a relative par with other members in terms of hours worked. Reppas also discounted data estimating the percentage of the population living under the poverty line at 23 percent; he claimed that this did not take into account the peculiarities of the Greek economy, such as the high rates of people owning their own home and consuming their own farm produce. He nevertheless acknowledged that retired farmers were especially likely to live under the poverty line. Reppas predicted unemployment, which fell to 9.9 percent in 2002, would continue falling, despite three factors which created difficulties: first, that manufacturing and services were slow absorbers of unemployment in the farm sector; second, the high rate of unregistered employment; and third, that 18 percent of the unemployed refused to take up various alternative jobs proposed. He defended social policies, saying that if every EU citizen received an extra year of training, total productivity would rise by 5 percent. Separately, almost one in four Greek enterprises violated labor or social insurance regulations, according to a provisional report for 2002 by the Labor Inspectors’ Board. In 64,325 inspections, 15,365 businesses, or 23.8 percent, were found in violation. Most penalties were imposed on firms in the sectors of construction, retail commerce and tourism. In 8,004 repeat inspections, 3,915 businesses had complied only partly and 1,019 had not complied at all.