In the afternoon of Tuesday 12 February, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Finance, Giorgos Mergos, stated that “The minimum wage in Greece remains high and this is something we must be careful about regarding growth.” This statement caused an uproar from various sides, as it was included in official remarks at the yearly general assembly of the Union of Social Security Funds. It must be noted that, after the latest laws pertaining to labour in Greece were voted as recommended by the troika, the gross minimum wage stands at €586.
The Ministry of Finance and the Minister himself rushed to deny any intent to further reduce the minimum wage while junior government coalition partner Democratic Left labeled the Mergos statement “unacceptable.” The Secretary-General himself said later that he was expressing personal views, that his statement did not reflect the government’s intentions and that a fragment of his remarks had been isolated, which altered the spirit in which it was made. Giorgos Mergos is Secretary-General of the Ministry since last summer, while in the past he was the representative of the public sector on the board of Alpha Bank.
Meanwhile on Thursday, following a question by SYRIZA Euro MP Nikos Chountis, Olli Rehn gave a new twist to the issue of the minimum wage in Greece by stating that the minimum wage would be revised in 2014 in order to reduce unemployment and enhance the competitiveness of the economy.
On Thursday morning, members of the SYRIZA youth movement together with two of the party’s MPs held a protest in front of Mr. Mergos’s office at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. They unfurled a banner reading “you can’t live on €500” and attempted to occupy symbolically the premises for a few minutes. The authorities’ reaction was immediate: the riot police intervened, using tear gas and beating protesters, among which the two SYRIZA MPs, despite the fact that the latter had stated their identity. It was confirmed after a medical examination that the two MPs had wounds to their head and legs. The police announced that a sworn administrative investigation would be held into the matter; such investigations however have a record of clearing police officers involved in cases of police brutality.
600,000 private-sector employees will face pay cuts up to 30% in the near future, as most collective and sector-based labour agreements expire in the coming days. Under the terms of the Memorandum, expired collective labour agreements that are not renewed are replaced by individual or company-based agreements.
1,200,000 private-sector employees have already transitioned to the new regime, which has further led to the development of more flexible forms of employment, such as part-time work and job rotation, meaning that 60% of the private sector’s labour force has already seen its revenue shrink considerably. Projections show that this proportion will rise to 80% in 2013.
Another factor in the upcoming reduction of private-sector wages is the cancellation of a bonus for married people in April 2013. This cancellation will bring about an additional reduction in the order of 10%.
It must be noted that the percentage of new, full-time job contracts dropped from 79% in 2009 to 58,9% in 2011, while a 73,25% increase was noted in the transformation of full-time to part-time contracts in 2011 alone.
According to data released by the research institute affiliated with the General Confederation of Workers, 3.9 million people in Greece are currently at risk of poverty. This marks an increase by 800,000 since 2011 and, according to the study, is due mostly to the unfair taxation system, which distributes the taxation burden among the population in an unbalanced way.
According to the data, taxation in Greece rose by 35.6% since 2011, an increase that burdened mostly pensioners and the average 4-member household of a family with two children.
The General Confederation of Workers asks for the withdrawal of the new taxation bill, a fairer taxation system and measures to fight tax evasion by the wealthy.
Meanwhile, data released on Thursday by the Hellenic Statistical Authority shows that unemployment in November 2012 reached 27% of the workforce, up from 26.6% just a month earlier in October and from 20.8% in November 2011. This translates into 1,350,181 unemployed, 323,000 of which lost their job in the past year. The unemployment rate among youth aged under 25 is of particular concern, as it rose to 61.7% from 50.1% year-on-year, while one in three women are looking for a job.
The employees of the Chatzis pastry shops in Thessaloniki won their case after one year of industrial action. The workers were complaining that their employer owed them three years’ worth of wages and bonuses, and had occupied one of the stores while engaging in various other forms of action. The employer was intransigent throughout this period, filing lawsuits against the unions, calling the police to intervene and so on. Finally however, at the end of January, an agreement was signed between the workers and their employer, under which wage arrears will be paid in 24 installments, while workers will also receive enough social security stamps to be eligible for unemployment benefits, and all lawsuits will be withdrawn.
Throughout the year during which they engaged in industrial action, the Chatzis workers benefited from considerable solidarity and financial support from other workers in Greece and abroad.
The VIOMET metal works factory in northern Greece opened officially on 12 February, under the management of its employees.
One day earlier, on 11 February, the assembly called by the VIOMET workers’ union for support to and solidarity with their struggle took place successfully. More than 120 people, employed and unemployed, representing tens of sectors of activity from all over the country as well as unions and collectivities from labour and social movements, attended to state their support.
The workers presented a chronicle of their struggle, which started 14 months ago, as well as the details of their union, which operates on the basis of direct democracy with regular sessions of the general assembly. They also presented a comprehensive programme and plan for the way their intend to take over the factory and its basic operation principles. As described by union leader Makis Anagnostou in a press conference last week, the factory will start operating gradually. One of the workers’ priorities is to auction the company’s stock, which has been legally confiscated, in order to raise part of the funds they need to re-launch production. As for suppliers, there have already been proposals from solidarity funds in Latin America, while several organizations and collectivities are looking into ways to support this endeavour.
The trial of 35 members of the communist-affiliated union PAME, who had been arrested during a protest at the Ministry of Labour approximately two weeks ago, was due to take place on Tuesday 12 February. The labour unionists are accused of taking over illegally public space and were arrested and taken to court under in flagrante procedures. A solidarity gathering took place outside the courthouse on Tuesday. The trial was finally postponed to 12 June, in the absence of witnesses.
Another, unprecedented intervention against labour took place on Wednesday, when police showed up at the assembly of the coordination body of primary-level unions under the pretext of investigating potential breaches of “order and security”. When labour unionists complained at the local police station, the officer in charge admitted that instructions to this effect had been issued by the Attica Police Directorate but blamed the tension on the excessive zeal of policemen.
On Monday, farmers proceeded once again with symbolic roadblocks on the interexchange of highways near Athens to demand lower fuel prices and relief measures for low-income farmers. They also decided on developing nationwide coordination and scaling up their protest by occupying public services and roads. The government has so far rejected their demands and states that it will not allow any roads to be blocked.
Another demand of the farmers is the payment of arrears owed to them by the food processing industry.
The farmers of Crete have also announced that they will engage in protests next week.
The managing director of the Tripoli hospital in Arcadia, Peloponnese, was suspended last week after she was denounced for allowing the entrance of Golden Dawn members in the hospital. Members of Golden Dawn had entered the hospital without any warning in order to verify if private, immigrant nurses were working there without documentation. They claimed that they had received such complaints from a nurses’ union.
The medical community went in an uproar over these events. It must be noted that it is illegal, even for the administrative services of Greek hospitals, to perform identity checks on people accompanying patients.
An investigation showed that the hospital manager had contacts with Golden Dawn and had stated that she had common goals with this fascist group in order to evict private immigrant nurses.
She was subsequently suspended from her position on a decision by the Minister of Health.