‘Facts’ before failures

Stung by criticism from all sides – from unions to the conservative opposition – over a spate of bankruptcies and layoffs, the government fought back yesterday. It claimed that more people had been hired than fired in the last few years and it blamed businesses for not doing enough to ensure their own survival. Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas, commenting on the closing of the Palco underwear factory with the loss of 500 jobs, pointed out a dilemma posed by EU policy. «The EU is at odds with itself here. It appears to have trapped itself,» Reppas told reporters. «On the one hand, we have decided to follow policies to support countries that are not in the EU so that they achieve high growth rates and so, with the jobs that are created, the people there will not migrate to the EU… With this aid, investments are made in these areas which, to an extent, absorb labor-intensive production from EU countries,» Reppas said. He noted that wages in other Balkan countries were one-tenth those in Greece. But he stressed that «the figures show that the number of companies that began operations here each year for the last few years are 70 percent or 100 percent greater than the number of those which closed because they could not compete.» Government spokesman Christos Protopappas presented detailed employment figures for the last three years. In 2000, he said, there were 978,266 new hirings as opposed to 534,805 layoffs, in 2001 there were 1,053,155 hirings and 597,575 layoffs, in 2002 there were 1,080,310 hirings to 590,777 layoffs and in the first four months of this year there were 200,665 hirings to 118,809 layoffs. «In the same (three-year) period, 71,000 new businesses opened and this proves – with facts rather than impressions – that more jobs were created than lost,» Protopappas said. In Parliament, National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis accused companies of making mistakes. «They must look beyond profits to the viability of their companies, helping them with new investments and the creation of new job opportunities,» he said. «Companies must show greater social responsibility and anticipate developments rather than fall victim to them.» New Democracy shadow finance minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis commented: «So everyone but the government is to blame… This is the logic of a trickster and not of a responsible party and a responsible person.»