The Ministry of Labor and Social Security opposes the recommendation of the European Commission to «extend professional life and encourage older employees to remain employed for a longer period of time.» «We do not accept this recommendation,» Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos said during Tuesday’s meeting of the Employment Commission, adding that he also opposed any limitations to existing early retirement options. The main argument against the Commission’s recommendation is that the employment rate of Greeks in the 55-64 age bracket (42.1 percent), is already higher than the average among EU15 members (41.7 percent) and among all EU members, including the 10 new ones (40.25 percent). The employment rate among males between the ages of 55 and 64 is even higher in Greece (59.2 percent), compared to 50.35 percent in the «old» 15 EU members and 51.65 percent in the whole EU. The minister opposed another European Commission recommendation – out of a total of nine submitted since last spring – for reducing the non-wage cost of labor (i.e. by reducing employers’ social security contributions). Panayiotopoulos was forced to explain himself for a statement, made on Monday, that he would make it obligatory for companies seeking personnel to formally notify the Manpower Organization (OAED), a state agency, and include the specializations the companies sought. (According to press reports, this proposal was opposed both by employers and employees. Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, chairman and executive president of the Federation of Greek Industries, said that «this can’t be done and won’t be done,» while Christos Polyzogopoulos, president of the General Confederation of Greek Labor, said that «such laws did not exist even in the former Soviet Union.») Panayiotopoulos said the measure would not be obligatory and that it would help the work of OAED’s regional employment monitoring centers. He added that he intended to provide incentives to enterprises to turn to OAED to find trained employees, but Polyzogopoulos objected that enterprises have become too dependent on state incentives. It also emerged from Tuesday’s meeting, whose main purpose was to examine the National Action Plan on Employment (ESDA) 2003-2006, that the present government, in contrast with its Socialist predecessor, is no longer interested in expanding part-time employment. As one of the participants, Costas Mergos, general secretary of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, remarked, at present the government’s employment program is exclusively focused on OAED, its restructuring and its actions. Before the meeting adjourned until next week, Polyzogopoulos said that unions wanted to hear the views of Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, specifically on how they planned to take employment into account in the major draft bills they are preparing, the first on tax reform and the second on investment incentives. Polyzogopoulos also criticized the Labor Ministry for its tardiness in setting up the Employment Commission and added that issues such as a cut in working hours to 39 per week – a major GSEE demand – as well as any issues concerning work hour flexibility would be discussed solely with employers’ representatives. Yiannis Vardakastanis, head of the Confederation of People with Disabilities, was especially critical of the government for not tackling discrimination against people with disabilities in employment.