Jobless rate dips; grants for work in small firms

Unemployment has dropped by 1 percent since last year to 10.4 percent, Employment Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos announced yesterday, but admitted the jobless rate remains at high levels. «We found it at 11.3 percent [in March 2004] and it now is just above 10 percent,» the minister said, adding that efforts have intensified as «even 10 percent is too much.» He appeared optimistic saying the rate will drop by 3 percentage points by 2008. Panayiotopoulos also said combatting unemployment – «Greek society’s Number One problem» – requires a collective effort and cooperation by several ministries: «If, for instance, competitiveness is not bolstered we cannot talk about a rise in employment,» he said, emphasizing on the efforts by the Development Ministry. Small business jobs The government will grant more than 48 million euros to 10,000 very small retail enterprises for offering part-time work to unemployed people. The program is a joint initiative by the ministries of Development and Employment and by the Manpower Organization (OAED), aimed at supporting those enterprises after the recent reforms and the extension of opening hours. Panayiotopoulos and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said the new opening hours pave the way for an increase in employment, and this program covers the needs to emerge in very small enterprises. A similar program may follow just for self-employed trade professionals, after a demand by Sioufas. The OAED program will apply to enterprises employing up to three people, for the hiring of 10,000 unemployed workers for 4 hours per day, five days per week, for 20 months. Each enterprise can hire one person, which must be an unemployed person who is at least 50 years old and is registered with OAED. Some 60 percent of the positions created will go to women. The cost of the program is projected at 48.28 million euros, covering an average 40 percent of the total burden on employers.