Slow Greek recovery no relief to workforce
Two years after the leftist government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras nearly crashed Greece out of the euro and eight years after the nation plunged into economic crisis, employment numbers are finally improving.
Tsipras himself said his administration has created 300,000 jobs since taking over in 2015, and expects the economy to grow by nearly 2 percent this year.
“Unemployment is falling… The road ahead is long, but we can be more confident,” Tsipras said in a televised interview in July.
Also in July, the nation made a positive test debt issue after three years of exile from money markets, and leading rating agencies are cautiously optimistic about its prospects.
Officially, unemployment is falling. In April it was 21.7 percent, down from a high of 27.8 percent in 2013.
However, labor groups in Greece have always suspected that real unemployment is far higher than official figures show — for example, those not actively seeking a job are not counted as unemployed.
The European Central Bank, using different criteria, in July said that 31.3 percent of Greece’s workforce was “under-utilized” at the end of last year, about eight points above Greek unemployment data.
Savvas Robolis, senior labor analyst at leading private-sector union GSEE, said that undeclared work was at an all-time high.
“In one of our studies, we estimated that one in 15 employees was undeclared,” he said.
Greece’s EU-IMF creditors have long argued that the nation’s highly unionized labor environment stifled job creation.
Enter the solution of part-time flexibility.
According to the OECD, part-time work — qualified as fewer than 30 hours per week and once considered an oddity in a country of small family-run enterprises — has nearly doubled in Greece over the past 10 years to more than 11 percent of total employment.
Facing a stark choice between emigrating abroad or sinking into inability to pay mounting taxes, many are opting for part-time work.
However, “part-time work is the definition of precarity,” Robolis said.
“Young workers on average earn a monthly salary of 380 euros [US$451], half the legal minimum wage,” he said, adding that employers hold all the cards in a market of warped, so-called flexibility.
“There is job flexibility in both directions,” Robolis said. “In terms of the workday, employers can impose additional hours as they see fit, but we also know that the salaries of 900,000 people in the private sector are between one and fifteen months in arrears.”
The Bank of Greece says fewer restrictions in the job market — enthusiastically endorsed by the nation’s international creditors — have created 150,000 part-time jobs in the past two years.
However, unions say that most of these employers routinely force their staff to work unpaid hours above and beyond their contract, skimping out on both wages and social insurance contributions.
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