ECONOMY

Hellenic Petroleum workers agree two-year wage freeze

Greece’s biggest refiner Hellenic Petroleum said on Friday it agreed with workers on a two-year wage freeze, putting an end to months of unrest and on-and-off strikes at the firm as it prepares to be privatized.

Cash-strapped Greece has ordered state-backed companies such as Hellenic to curb wages in line with the terms of an EU/IMF bailout to save the country from bankruptcy.

Basic salaries at Hellenic will not rise in 2011 and 2012, according to the text of the deal obtained by Reuters. A 2.5 percent increase is scheduled for 2013, on condition that operating profits exceed 700 million euros that year. In 2010, Hellenic’s EBITDA profit was 501 million euros.

Workers at former state monopolies earn about twice as much as private-sector employees. Real average wages have dropped 9.3 percent in Greece last year and are expected to shrink a further 5 percent this year, according to figures from the Greek central bank.

Making these companies leaner will also help Greece sell them as part of its 50 billion euro privatisation plan. Greece plans to sell its 35.5 percent stake in Hellenic, currently worth about 700 million euros, early next year.

“These changes will definitely make the company more attractive for possible investors,» said Marios Theofanopoulos, an analyst at Euroxx Securities.

Overtime work was limited and a string of perks was scrapped, such as a six-day recreation subsidised by the company and a canteen bonus. New hires will be subject to a one-year trial period at 60 percent of the gross salary.

But other analysts were more skeptical. «Management went back on a demand to link wages with productivity,» said an Athens-based analyst who declined to be named. [Reuters]