Labor ministry ready to act to curb growing unemployment

Officials at the Labor Ministry say they are ready to counter any effects of the expected global economic downturn on employment. Greece, once known as having low unemployment – and extremely unreliable statistics – now has the second highest joblessness rate in the EU. The unemployment rate peaked at 12 percent of the total workforce in 1999, and is said to have dropped to 10.9 percent in 2000. However, this latter figure was called into question recently when the National Statistics Service was found to have released figures from an incompletely processed survey. Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis yesterday presided over a meeting concerned with how best to prevent unemployment from inching back up. If the need arose, participants decided, funds would be shifted to enterprises likely to curtail activities or regions facing a rise in unemployment. Ministry officials also decided that European Union funds, set aside to help employees in need after the September 1999 earthquake which hit several Athens enterprises, and which had not been fully utilized, could be used in employment-boosting programs. Yiannitsis and his officials report that, so far, consumption and production have not been affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Not even the prolonged crisis of the Athens Stock Exchange, which has hit hundreds of thousands of investors, has dented domestic consumption and production. Moreover, officials say, EU funds through the Third Community Support Framework and the construction of many infrastructure projects needed for the 2004 Olympics in Athens will keep growth high and employment rising. This is the scenario also favored by National Economy Ministry officials. Recently, however, construction companies involved in Olympic projects have been pressuring the authorities to accept mass inflows of cheap foreign labor, arguing that there is little time in which to complete the projects and that there is the danger of huge cost overruns. Construction firms would also like to abolish current rules governing worker’s overtime. If they get their way, it will be to the detriment of the unemployed, including the 113,000 unemployed in the construction sector.

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