Greek unemployment dips but hovers near record highs

Labour market shows few signs of respite despite indications of economic recovery elsewhere

Greece's unemployment rate dipped marginally in December but still hovered around record highs, according to figures released today, as its labour market showed few signs of respite despite signs of an economic recovery elsewhere.

The number of Greeks without work has more than tripled in the four years since its debt crisis began and remains a major headache for a government eager to show the worst is over before local and European parliament elections in May.

The jobless rate inched lower to 27.5 per cent from a downwardly revised 27.6 per cent the previous month, the statistics agency ELSTAT said.

Hundreds of protesters from the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME were marching in Athens today against the austerity measures imposed to meet the terms of Greece's €240-billion EU/IMF bailout, including steep wage and pension cuts.

The marchers were defying a temporary ban on protests in the centre of the capital while German president Joachim Gauck was visiting, and a few dozen scuffled with riot police who fired tear gas to prevent them marching to parliament.

"We do not deserve this life if we cannot work, without a salary, insurance, without being able to live with dignity - we and our children," the PAME union said in a statement.

Greek unemployment hit a record 27.7 per cent last October, and remains more than double the euro zone average, which itself hit a record 12 per cent in December.

Economists say a turnaround will take time, even if a recovery sets in this year.

"The unemployment rate appears to have stabilised at high levels in recent months," said Nikos Magginas, an economist at the Greek lender National Bank, adding that businesses continued to shed jobs despite an improvement in economic activity.

While retail sales, manufacturing and construction activity all suggest that growth may be set to resume after six years of recession, unemployment has yet to reflect this.

The government says it expects the economy to grow by 0.6 per cent this year.

About 1.38 million people are officially out of work. Young Greeks aged 15-24, excluding students and military conscripts, remain the hardest hit, with 55.5 percent having no job, compared to 23 per cent when the crisis began.

The jobless rate among those aged 25-34 stood at 37.4 per cent. (Reuters)