IT IS not only during the election campaign that high unemployment is used by the opposition parties as something to criticise the government with. An opposition party will just mention the percentage and express outrage before embarking on the familiar tirade about the government’s supposed failure to do anything to bring down the number of the jobless.
The impression given by our demagogue politicians is that reducing the unemployment figures is the easiest thing in the world. All the government had to do was to approve a dozen big public projects and high unemployment would become history. The formula had one fundamental weakness – the government did not have the money for the big public projects – but nobody cared, because the objective of opposition parties was to score political points at the expense of the government rather than tackle the problem.
This crude approach was evident on the front page of Haravghi yesterday. The banner headline of the Akel mouthpiece read, “Concealed unemployment for 33,000 Cypriots”. It referred to the figures released by Eurostat which found that about one in ten people in jobs were working on a part-time basis and were therefore not registered as unemployed. Cyprus had the biggest percentage of part-time workers in the EU; it stood at 9.2 per cent, which was double the EU average. It also noted that two thirds of these people would have preferred to work full-time, as they were on “starvation wages.”
Nobody could argue that this was not a problem, but then again, is it better that these 33,000 part-timers had no job at all? If Akel and the rest of the opposition parties had their way and kept shops closed on Sundays, part-time employment would have been even lower. Would this have been better? It could have contributed to more dramatic headlines, but would anyone argue that no work is preferable to part-time work? Parties would be doing the country a big service if, instead of always using employment stats to score political points, they used them as a tool for coming up with solutions and new policies.
For instance, much has been made about unemployed graduates over the last couple of years, yet according to figures released this week by the state’s Statistical Service, there were 20,000 more university graduates in employment last year than there were in 2008 which was a good year for the economy. By comparison, there were 26,000 fewer unskilled workers employed last year compared to 2008. In contrast, employment of third-country nationals has fluctuated very little during the recession years (it remained the same even in 2014 when the unemployment rate was at its highest – 16.1 per cent) indicating there were jobs Cypriots refused to do.
Political parties should be analysing all these stats and coming up with policy suggestions if they really want to do something about high unemployment. Moaning about it and scoring cheap political points will not help tackle the problem.