ECONOMY

National plan hopes to battle poverty through stress on part-time employment

A close reading of the National Employment Action Plan (ESDA) for 2003 suggests that all roads lead to an increase in part-time employment. The plan, to be submitted to the European Commission, sets out the commitments the government is undertaking in an effort to increase employment as well as pointing out the basic trends in the Greek labor market. In the draft that was made public on Wednesday and which will constitute the basis for discussion in the inaugural meeting of the National Employment Council on July 30, two new factors are evident. The first concerns boosting employment and the ability to enter the labor market through part-time employment, which is still not favored in Greece and accounts for only 5 percent of employment. The second concerns linking employment to poverty-prevention measures. The document does not draw a direct connection between the problems of the labor market with the formula of part-time employment, but the connection can be seen in the three conclusions of the Action Plan in setting out the factors which increase the possibility of someone being poor. The first conclusion is: «The chief problem in unemployment is the difficulty people face in entering the labor market.» Applying mainly to women and young people – people who have no work experience – it tends to be a long-term thing. The percentage of unemployed men aged over 25 in Greece is lower than the EU average (5.2 percent versus 5.8 percent). Second conclusion: «Women who do not seek jobs, putting their families first, young people who are studying and older people who have already retired constitute unexploited reservoirs of labor.» This points to two priorities: a) an improvement in the infrastructure of child care, etc., which would allow more women to join the labor force, and b) that it would be more effective to have «varied types of work, so that employment can be compatible with the needs of people who, for various reasons, do not want full-time, exclusive employment.» Third conclusion: «The problem of employment in Greece is primarily a problem of supply and not one of demand,» as an increase in employment of native residents would not be sufficient to attain the target of the Lisbon agreement (70 percent of the economically active population by 2010). The Action Plan’s assertions regarding the relationship between employment and poverty are noteworthy. «An unemployed person is 2.5 times more likely to be poor than one who is employed. But pensioners are at greater risk of being poor than the unemployed. Also, farmers, stock breeders and fishermen, residents of farm areas, households headed by a farmer or by someone who did not finish school are all at greater risk of being poor,» the plan said. It also presents the following figures: A person who is employed part-time is 1.72 times more likely to be poor than one in full-time employment. However, a worker in the private sector is 6.13 times more likely to be poor compared to one in the public sector. «This means that the relative danger of poverty is much greater among workers in the private sector as opposed to those in the public sector than it is among workers who are employed part-time as opposed to full-time. Also, housewives are 1.7 times more likely to be poor than if they were employed, while non-working people are 1.5 times more likely to be poor than if they were working. «All of the above, in connection with the finding that a wife’s employment reduces the household’s danger of poverty significantly, show that part-time employment is a welcome development which, overall, reduces the danger of poverty and social exclusion,» the authors of the Action Plan conclude. The improvement in the unemployment figures, which dropped to 9.9 percent in the first quarter of 2003, is attributed to the combined effects of an increase in economic activity and the implementation of employment programs. It is estimated that «the outlook is good for the current and next year.» But «the big question concerns the ability to maintain this good performance from 2005 onward – in other words, after major projects, of the Community Support Framework and for the Olympic Games, have been completed.» In this light, the following assessments in the Action Plan are especially important: Greece has the smallest percentage (1.2 percent) of people aged 25-64 in educational and vocational programs, when the European average is 8.4 percent; the effects of Law 2874/2000 on employment were limited, with a sample of 2,016 businesses that carried out hirings showing that only 6 percent attributed this to the benefits provided by the law (reduced employer contributions for low-income employees, a rise in the cost of overtime work and the scrapping of compulsory overtime).