Gov’t tells private firms to watch their step when firing

The government said yesterday that private employees cannot be fired at will and that firms must justify such actions, particularly if the workers affected are elected as labor union members. «Labor union activity is fully covered by law, which also protects elected union officials… the tactic of reducing staff which certain firms follow is also judged according to whether it is abusive and justified by their situation and financial data,» Deputy Labor Minister Lefteris Tziolas said after a meeting with workers of the Athens Paper Mill (Softex) protesting the dismissal of an elected colleague of the Press and Paper Industry Federation. A further tripartite meeting has been called with Softex representatives on August 20 to deal with the issue. The union charges that the firm has laid off 2,000 employees since being acquired by the multinational Bolton group in 1997, and that only 350 remain today. Greek law allows a maximum of 2 percent dismissals a month. Separately, Thessaloniki businessmen yesterday said the government’s failure to stem the decline in competitiveness of the Greek economy was causing a wave of failures. Officials of the city’s Federation of Small Manufacturers said heavy taxation, corruption and bureaucracy were the major impediments for small and midsized enterprises that account for 86 percent of the country’s employment. They said the answer was extensive structural changes that will boost entrepreneurship and innovation. According to the General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Traders (GSEVEE), the number of applications for bankruptcy nationwide in the first five months of the year rose 151 percent to 1,189, year on year.