State tries to keep firms in distress solvent, save jobs

A worried government is doing what it can to prevent company closures, using state resources and state-owned banks to help devise programs to help keep companies afloat. It was announced yesterday that the state-owned Agricultural Bank of Greece has agreed to undertake a study on whether heavily indebted company Ippocambos can survive and search for investors abroad. Ippocambos specializes in ship and hotel furnishings and has an international reputation. It owes its 300 employees wages totaling 4.9 million euros and owes a further 30 million to banks, 50 percent of that sum to the Agricultural Bank and the rest to Alpha Bank and General Bank. Following talks between management, employees and Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas and his deputy, Lefteris Tziolas, Ippocambos’s managing director went to Agricultural Bank Governor Petros Lambrou to request that the study be made. Lambrou, a prominent member of the ruling Socialists, had certainly already discussed this with Reppas. The company may be a small one but the government’s stance is indicative of its determination to avoid as many job losses as possible. When Swiss-German company Schiesser Pallas announced the closure of its garment factory in Athens, Reppas and Tziolas tried, in vain, to convince management not to close the factory and layoff its 500 employees. In the case of Schiesser Pallas the government was most likely aware that it could not prevent the company from relocating production to a country with lower labor costs, but, to its supporters, it had to be seen trying. Yesterday, Schiesser Pallas employees met the head of the state Human Resources Organization, Yiannis Nikolaou, to discuss what sort of program could be devised to retrain them. Most of the Schiesser Pallas employees are highly specialized middle-aged women, with many of them only a few years away from retirement. Finding them other jobs is a headache for the government, which will likely combine some sort of assistance with early retirement schemes. Employees of bankrupt supermarket chain Antonopoulos met yesterday with the Labor Ministry’s general secretary, Ioanna Panopoulou, to assure her that there has been interest in the chain from hypermarket chain Carrefour and Lidl. However, Antonopoulos, while operating, was notoriously avoided by other supermarket chains as a takeover target due to the small size of its premises and the lack of spread across the country. In another bankrupt company, Beauty & Diet, employees are holding out for wages owed. A new manager has promised to settle this by June 30. Yesterday, a lower court in the town of Drama said that the layoffs of 220 employees by Softex paper mill was illegal. This will force company management to pay wages until a final decision by a higher court.

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