ECONOMY

An emphasis on part-time employment

Prime Minister Costas Simitis will soon announce measures designed to reduce unemployment by the time of the next general election, in spring 2004. The measures are expected to focus on boosting part-time employment among women and the young. Yesterday, Simitis conferred for two hours with Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas about the measures, which will be discussed at a Cabinet meeting tomorrow. It is not known yet whether any announcement will follow the meeting. Most of the part-time jobs would be created in the private sector, by providing subsidies to companies to create jobs. A few part-time jobs will also be created in the public sector, but the government wants to tread carefully there, for fear of rousing the enmity of the powerful public sector unions, who are vehemently opposed to any notion of part-time employment. It appears that a solution has been found by limiting part-time jobs to public schools (guardians and cleaning staff), a few social security agencies and the new Citizens’ Assistance Centers, one-stop shops providing information and promising a streamlining of the public’s dealings with state agencies. The assistance centers will be set up in municipalities throughout Greece and the hiring of part-timers will not affect the status of any permanent civil servants. Besides creating the jobs, government officials hope to please the public by offering extended services through the assistance centers. Opposition to part-time jobs extends to private sector unions. In the debate over labor market reform two years ago, the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) had clearly stated its position against part-time jobs. In a meeting with GSEE’s executive last month, Simitis urged the unionists to abandon their opposition. Other employment programs will also target the long-term unemployed and those who have lost their jobs after mass redundancies, such as the over 400 employees at Athenian Paper Mills’ plant in the northern town of Drama. The government will also accelerate the implementation of job training and placement programs funded through the European Union. Unemployment, which peaked in Greece at about 12 percent in 2000, recently returned to single-digit figures. It is still higher than the EU average; employers blame this on too-rigid labor laws.