Wednesday, 13 January 2010


So our public sector union is going on strike after all. But of course.

Let me see. Anything between 500,000 to a million people (depending on definition) work in the Greek civil service and the wider public sector (see calculations here). As of 2007, public admin workers made 64% more per hour worked than the average employee - according to official statistics on EUKLEMS. After two years' probation they become permanent and can only be fired subject to the approval of their own peers. Their unfunded defined benefit pensions cost god knows how much per year. They also collectively earn another EUR 463m annually in bribes (an extra 3.4% on top of their gross earnings by my reckoning). In addition to all of this, employment in their sector has doubled as a share of the total workforce in the last 30 years (see calculations here).

So just to be clear. That these muppets can go on strike at all without a sea of spit landing on their faces is amazing.

Standby for FAIL.

The Union, as per due process, noted its intention to strike here. This coincided (?) with Greece's credit rating being downgraded by Moody's. The text includes an amazing passage directed at the Union's own members:

"We need to be informed of any benefits (aside from universal social benefits) or additional payments currently in place in order to back up with specific knowledge and documentation the public argumentation of our policy statements. Federations must by 12/1/2010 notify us in writing of what additional payments are in place in their sectors."

Perhaps this is doesn't mean much to some readers, so let me explain. The public sector workers' union doesn't know what benefits its members receive because the government doesn't know how many they are or what it pays them in the first place. Nobody does. So in order to not look like muppets when they are negotiating with their employer - the taxpayer - they need to know what everybody is making.

Now we're waiting on the private sector general union, GSEE, to tell us whether they too will strike in solidarity. Perhaps they will.

Greek speakers can read the original GSEE demands here.Everyone else will have to take my word for it for what it says.

The demands in summary are:

  • An 8% rise in minimum wages 
  • A floor for hours worked part-time, flexibly or in jobshares
  •  A ceiling in the percentage of the workforce employed part-time, flexibly or in jobshares
  • A ban on additional work for part-timers, even if left to the employer's discretion by contract 
  • A ban on overtime 
  • Gradual convergence to a 35-hr week
  • A ban on contractors bidding for public work at a nominal loss
  • Extending compliance obligations on the contracting authority for work carried out by contractors 
  • A ceiling on apprenticeships and traineeships as a percentage of the workforce per workplace 
  • A partial ban on redundancies for staff close to retirement age
  • Setting maternity leave to 17 months compulsory and 3 optional
  • 6-8 days of additional annual leave for single parents
  • free public transport for all tenants in public housing estates
  • a schedule for the convergence of Greek wages to the European average, regardless of convergence of productivity

There are further provisions which I don't have a gripe with - like additional leave for pregnant women who suffer stillbirths or miscarriages etc. I can't argue with that, although I would think that employers will do the decent thing in these occasions. Of course, they probably don't so let's give the Union its due.

But the bullet points above are a death sentence for Greece. The Union dresses them up in Keynesian rhetoric about how a demand gap threatens the economy and how these measures will help us claw our way back to systainable growth. Except of course they will freeze the labour market, disproportionately affecting low earners. And earning nothing means you'll spend much less than earning the same (nominally) as last year would. They just don't get it.

Employers are proposing a 1.5% rise, and their full proposals must be out there somewhere. Let's wait and see.

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