The government yesterday continued its offensive against the opposition, accusing them of sowing panic over the closure of a couple of companies in recent days and discrediting the country’s economic achievements. Swiss-German-owned garment factory Schiesser Pallas’s decision to shift its production facilities to a Balkan country, effective end of this month, and cosmetic chain Yvonni Stores’ filing for bankruptcy this week as well as reports of other imminent closures, have created an intense debate in recent days over job losses. More jobs, in fact, have been created over the last three years than those lost, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said. «Between 2000 to 2002, the number of hirings exceeded sackings by 243,000. Since 1999, we have 125,000 fewer unemployed and 80,000 fewer long-term jobless. Last year alone, 220,000 people found work,» he said. Statistics point to the declining number of people out of work, while the number of jobs created is steadily on the rise, Christodoulakis said. «Unemployment is now a single-digit figure, 9.7 percent, and approaching the EU average, which came to 8.6 percent in the first quarter,» he said. «Employment is growing by 2.7 percent.» Christodoulakis said government policy will focus on high economic growth to create jobs and training programs to help those made redundant get back into the work force. While the government is willing to assist those laid off with training programs and unemployment benefits, it does not plan to tamper with existing legislation on sackings, compensation and wages, Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas said. Nor would it jack up the retirement age. «It [increasing the retirement age] is not an issue,» he said. Christodoulakis dismissed any move by the government to reduce social security contributions made by employers. Social security reforms launched last year were adequate enough to provide for a viable pension system, he stressed. He said the State will instead crack down on employers who evade paying their contributions. IKA, the principal social security system, is hoping that its recently computerized operations will get errant employers to pay up.