Plan aims to reduce jobless rate to 6 percent by 2008

The government’s revised National Action Plan on Employment for the years 2003-2008 has adopted more modest goals than the original one published in summer, but even these goals were disputed yesterday by unionists close to conservative opposition New Democracy, who disputed the accuracy of current figures on employment published by the National Statistics Service (NSS). The new Action Plan was presented at a meeting of the Employment Commission, which brings together government unionists and government officials. The Action Plan promises to lower the unemployment rate, currently hovering around 9 percent of the work force, to 6 percent by 2008, decrease wage inequalities between men and women and provide more employment opportunities for the unemployed. Specifically, the revised Action Plan makes the following 15 commitments: – To reduce the jobless rate to 7 percent by 2006 and 6 percent by 2008. – Reduce women’s jobless rate below 10 percent by 2006 and to 8 percent by 2008. – Provide each unemployed youth with a job or training offer within six months and to all unemployed within 12 months. – Provide customized, personal services to all unemployed for a period up to four months. – Have 30 percent of long-term unemployed participate in training schemes. – Increase the employment rate (the number of employed as a percentage of the total population aged 15-64) by 1.5 percent each year. – Increase women’s employment rate by 2 percent each year. – Push salaries up to 90 percent of EU average by 2008. – Extend part-time employment, especially in «social jobs.» – Reduce disparities between men’s and women’s wages (no specific target provided). – Have 33 percent of infants up to age 3 attending daycare centers. – Have 90 percent of children ages 3-6 attending nurseries or kindergarten schools. – Double spending on active employment policies as a percentage of GDP. – Lower the tax rate for low-wage people to 20 percent by 2006 (from a current 34.6 percent). Christos Polyzogopoulos, president of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and a prominent member of the ruling Socialists, declared that this was one of the best action plans in recent years. He said that he would see to it that the government sticks to its commitments and added that a reduction in the number of working hours was necessary, quoting the Action Plan report itself, which says that the average working week has increased from 39 hours to 41 over the past few years. GSEE’s general secretary, Yiannis Manolis, a prominent New Democracy member, accused the NSS of falsifying employment data, citing the latest figure for the jobless rate in the third quarter of 2003, 8.9 percent, as improbable. He also disputed figures that show a rising employment rate and rising state spending on welfare. He added that the NSS’s employment survey is based on data from the next-to-last census, conducted in 1991, and thus grossly underestimates the number of migrant workers. Manolis made these declarations to reporters after he stormed out of the Employment Commission meeting. Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas admitted that data on working immigrants were not updated but otherwise defended the official statistics.