Parties spar over unemployment

The problem of unemployment entered the election campaign yesterday when the Manpower Organization (OAED) admitted that there were over half a million people unemployed in Greece on January 1, which would imply an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent, way over the 8.9 percent reported by the National Statistical Service. Also, Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who is expected to be elected president of PASOK next month, proposed that young people be employed for four years at full wages without paying social security contributions. This would apply for school leavers under the age of 25, and university or technical college graduates under the age of 29. New Democracy’s chief strategist, Giorgos Souflias, commented that this added burden could not be borne by the country’s social security funds. The conservative opposition party’s spokesman, Theodoris Roussopoulos, also leapt on the revelation made earlier by the governor of the OAED labor organization, Yiannis Nikolaou. «No one trusts the PASOK government,» Roussopolos told Mega Channel. «Today it was revealed that PASOK has been lying for a long time as to the number of unemployed.» Nikolaou was forced to hold an emergency news conference yesterday, following the revelation of unemployment numbers by the representative of OAED employees, Giorgos Vernardakis. The figures presented by Vernardakis, who is on OAED’s board, showed that 506,914 people were registered as unemployed by OAED on January 20, up from 454,281 on April 30, 2003. The difference between OAED’s figures and those of the statistical service appears to arise from the fact that the latter calculates the number of unemployed on the basis of the 1991 census and not that of 2001. Insisting that the statistical service’s figures were the official ones, Nikolaou said the number of unemployed registered by OAED varies according to the season (as with employment in the tourism sector) and grows ahead of examinations held for state sector hiring when applicants have to hold cards declaring that they are unemployed. «This does not reflect the reality of the labor market, because many of these applicants find work the day after the examinations, or are self-employed,» Nikolaou said. «The number of registered unemployed shows great mobility. Many categories of the unemployed do not seek work because they work seasonally during other months,» he added. Papandreou, visiting the working-class harbor town of Lavrion, east of Athens, yesterday, finally responded to New Democracy’s challenge to say whether he was responsible for the actions of the government of Premier Costas Simitis. Papandreou took the opportunity to refer to the period when his father, Andreas Papandreou, was in power. «The opposition asks: ‘Where was George? Where was George when Andreas was charting a new Greece? Where was George when Simitis was building a powerful Greece?’ Let New Democracy understand once and for all: I was here, I am here and I will be here. I will be here with my work and my participation, with my hope and expectations,» Papandreou said. ND leader Costas Karamanlis, on a visit to Cyprus yesterday, declared: «We are ahead in a crucial election contest. We are fighting for participation against apathy… in the battle of young people against their fate and of the older ones for that which they deserve.» Karamanlis is currently trying to solve the problem of older party notables who are not keen to make way for younger candidates for Parliament.

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