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Tsipras: The most important development is the steady decrease in unemployment

The most important positive news of recent years has been the steady decrease in unemployment and an increase in employment, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday, during a visit to the labour ministry.

In statements to the press, he highlighted the need “to discern the difference between the previous governments’ ‘virtual’ recovery with huge unemployment rates and a dismantled state” and a situation that has an impact on the daily life of the people. “We are still half-way down this road but we have started to see light ahead,” he added, noting that the struggle was difficult but had already brought some results, while it would bring more in the future.

The prime minister referred to the effort being made to restore the labour market and the new social state, adding that unemployment has fallen 2.5 percent as a result of higher growth rates.

The meeting at the labour ministry had focused on the ministry’s actions and the next targets, Tsipras said, while announcing plans for a programme subsidising social insurance contributions for employers that switch current staff from freelance, self-employed status to that of salaried employees.

In addition to incentives, the government would also introduce “disincentives” via inspections to uncover permanent staff “disguised” as freelance workers. This illegal practice, he pointed out, was not the result of the crisis but first arose in times of prosperity. “We are now called on to deal with it and we will not shut our eyes [to the problem],” he added.

The prime minister referred to the efforts to reform Greece’s social insurance system and noted that critics claiming the EFKA unified social insurance fund would collapse had been proved wrong. He pointed out a 100-million-euro surplus in the social insurance system, noting that this would have been impossible if employment had continued shrinking. “This surplus reflects an increase in employment and in collection of revenues,” he said.

For workers “trapped” in jobs where they were not being paid for months on end, he said the labour ministry was mulling actions that might even lead to the closure of businesses violating labour law. In his statements, he was critical of the justice system, saying it was failing to protect these unpaid employees.

“There is a legal framework that does not help and an approach from regular justice that also does not help,” Tsipras said, announcing a benefits programme to provide financial assistance to such workers, amounting to 100 million euros, as well as retraining of such workers to help them find other work or even change professions.

“Our main aim is to have the capability in 2019 to compare the unemployment rate, the implementation of our chosen programmes and, when the time comes, to be proud that we took a broken-down state and labour ‘jungle’ and brought them to a state we are not ashamed of,” he said.