ECONOMY

Wage agreement looks unlikely after a fourth round of talks

Yesterday’s fourth meeting between union and employee representatives over new wage agreements ended with the two sides still far from accord. «It was a step, but not a satisfactory one,» said Christos Polyzogopoulos, president of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) after the meeting. Dimitris Assimakopoulos, president of the General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Traders (GSEVEE), said that the employers offered a two-year agreement and a wage raise that would take account of expected inflation, a fraction of the productivity rise and higher raises for those on minimum wage. The pay raises would be phased in two installments. The employers are also willing to discuss GSEE’s demand for a one-hour reduction in the workweek, to 39 hours, but only if the government offered employers incentives. Unionists interpreted the employers’ offer as resulting in a rise of 3-3.5 percent from January 1, 2004 – which would be paid retroactively, plus a further 2-2.5 percent increase on July 1. Polyzogopoulos told reporters that GSEE made it clear that it would accept no less than an 8 percent rise on minimum wage and a 6 percent increase for all other employees. As for signing a two-year agreement, he made it conditional on a «debate» on the 39-hour week. He seemed, however, willing to accept the employers’ demand for government incentives, as well as a reduction in the cost of overtime. The GSEE president made it clear that the next meeting, scheduled to take place on May 13, at the offices of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), will be the final one. Unions «do not wish to be ensnared in continuous negotiations,» he said, adding that, if an agreement was not reached during that meeting, GSEE would call for a general strike. SEV Chairman and Executive President Odysseas Kyriakopoulos said that the issue was «very complex» and that «an effort to square the circle» was being made. Dimitris Armenakis, president of the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) warned that a big rise in wages would fuel inflation. Left-wing unionists were more critical of the employers’ proposals and called on Polyzogopoulos, a high-ranking official of the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) to reject them outright. Polyzogopoulos’s deputy, Alekos Kalyvis, who belongs to the Synaspismos Left Coalition, said that these proposals were nothing new, but the old ones slightly revised, and that they would lead to average pay raises of about 4.5 percent. He said GSEE should reject the proposal outright. Giorgos Mavrikos, a former general secretary at GSEE and a Communist Party official, said the employers’ proposal was «unacceptable» and said Polyzogopoulos should have responded to it with an immediate call for a strike. Pro-Communist unionists have refused seats offered in the GSEE executive body over the past four years, accusing its leadership of being too accommodating. Polyzogopoulos called on employees to participate massively in the traditional May 1 rally, which will focus on GSEE’s pay demands. Other employers’ representatives appeared more optimistic that an agreement will be reached. However, yesterday’s proposals were submitted by GSEVEE, seen as the most «union-friendly» of the three major employers’ organizations and the other two – SEV and ESEE – are unlikely to improve upon them. In any case, the employers have agreed to stick together until the end, and avoid surprises, such as the one that Kyriakopoulos fell victim to when he was informed of GSEVEE’s leaked proposal on live TV.