Salaries slashed and often unpaid for months in crisis-hit Greece

In the crisis-hit, jungle-like Greek job market, not only has unemployment reached staggering heights, but salaries are paid with huge delays and sometimes employees are even paid in kind.

“Every morning I leave my kids, take my car, pump it up with gas and go to work,» says 40-year-old cashier Chryssoula Zarkamela.

The economic crisis has not altered Zarkamela’s routine except for one thing: she and her ten colleagues at the Arvanitidis super market in Katerini, northern Greece, have not received their 894-euro (1.229$) salary since August.

All employees of the super market chain, which counts some 150 stores country-wide, get paid irregularily, she explains.

“Things took a turn for the worse about a year ago. At first we were paid with a month’s delay, we didn’t complain much. Then the (unpaid) sums accumulated.”

In May, already three months in arrears, the company asked employees to accept half their salaries in 20-euro vouchers to be used in the super market.

“They think I will pay my taxes with flour and sugar,» Zarkamela said.

“One or two-month delays in salary payments are so frequent that even the kindest work inspector finds it pointless to complain,» says lawyer Margarita Stefanatou, who specialises in labour law.

In a survey published by daily Kathimerini in earlier this month, the union Gsee estimated that more than one million salaried employees were unpaid.

Greece already has a staggering unemployment rate of more than 27 percent, with some 1.37 million people registered as jobless.

“One in two companies do not pay their employees on time,» said Yiannis Kouzis, associate professor of social policy at Athens’ Panteion University.

According to Kouzis, jobs in security, cleaning, hotelery and restaurants are the most dysfunctional.

According to the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), companies employing up to 50 people, which make up 98.5 percent of businesses in Greece, are the most vulnerable in the economic crisis.

Small-size businesses, which before the crisis could count on bank credit for cash flow problems, are now suffocating as credit is no longer available, says Stefanatou who admits mismanagement was also a problem.

At the Henri Dunant hospital in Athens, which opened in 2000, the previous management left a million euro funding gap.

More than one thousand employees there have not been paid for nine months, explains doctor Anastassia Koutsouris, deprived of her 1,650-euro monthly salary.

“I could leave, but where would I find work?,» the 45-year-old said.

Fear of unemployment is what makes N., a 52-year-old waiter at a central Athens hotel who chose to remain anonymous, reluctant to leave his job.

But for the past 15 months he has only been getting some «200 euros here and there».

It is rare for employees to demand their salaries, as did the shipyard workers in Skaramangas, close to Athens, who have not been paid for 18 months and hold regular protests.

Unpaid seamen working at the Pinelopi ferry, which links Athens with the Cycladic islands in the Aegean Sea, have also walked off the job since last summer.

“The crisis hit a job market that already resembled a jungle and was full of many abuses,» said Eli Varkalama, lawyer for Gsee.


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