Papandreou meets employers’ and employees’ representatives

George Papandreou, the new leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), yesterday visited the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) and tried to find common ground with both. GSEE and SEV, respectively the major employees’ and employers’ bodies, are currently involved in talks on a collective wages agreement in which they are further apart in their aims than they were in the past 12 years. GSEE is asking for a «minimum» pay rise of 8 percent and a cut in the working week to 39 hours from the current 40, calling both its claims «non-negotiable.» On the other hand, SEV proposes a 3.2 percent pay rise and pours scorn on the demand for a 39-hour week. Papandreou visited GSEE headquarters first, telling the unionists that he respected their autonomy and considered them essential «social partners.» He promised that any labor reforms his government will make, provided he wins the March 7 election, will be made «in cooperation, essentially in partnership» with GSEE. He promised unionists that none of their hard-earned rights would be eroded by his government. Papandreou’s visit and declarations were met by approval by GSEE member Christos Polyzogopoulos, also a prominent PASOK member, but by skepticism from other officials. «It is of great value to us that George Papandreou’s first official visit as PASOK leader was to GSEE,» said Polyzogopoulos, who called the talks «constructive.» «The new PASOK president listened to us carefully and was sensitive to what we had to say,» Polyzogopoulos said. On the other hand, GSEE Secretary-General Yiannis Manolis, a member of conservative New Democracy, said that Papandreou’s positions were «too general, too vague.» Even more critical was deputy president Alekos Kalyvis, a member of the Left Coalition party, who said that «the majority of GSEE put to Mr Papandreou questions on crucial issues without, of course, receiving an answer. Kalyvis added that the labor model Papandreou proposes is «cheap, badly-paid, insecure and uninsured labor, high unemployment and underemployment.» He was referring to a proposal Papandreou made a few days ago, calling on exempting employers from paying social security contributions for people with less than four years in the workforce. Analysts said this measure could help cut the unemployment rate, currently hovering around 9 percent, by 3 percentage points. Papandreou later visited SEV, whose chairman and executive president, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, is an old classmate of his. After the talks Kyriakopoulos said that Papandreou’s and SEV’s positions on a wide range of social and economic issues coincided. According to sources, SEV officials asked Papandreou to commit himself, irrespective of whether he becomes prime minister or leader of the opposition, to a «social consensus,» code for keeping unions on a tight leash and ensuring no widespread labor unrest. SEV officials also asked for a complete retreat of the state from business and a continuation of tax reform.