ECONOMY

Wages agreement provides for a generous minimum pay raise

Employers and labor unions yesterday concluded collective bargaining talks with a two-year agreement on wage rises which includes a significant increase in the minimum wage. The Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE), the General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Traders (GSEVEE) and the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) succeeded in bridging differences that seemed irreconcilable at first after several rounds of negotiation. GSEE had threatened to discontinue negotiations and begin a series of strikes if yesterday’s meeting was inconclusive. Employers and employees agreed to defer talks on reducing the working week from 40 to 39 hours for September. Unskilled laborers working on a minimum wage – 23.29 euros a day or 519.87 euros a month – will fare best, as GSEE had demanded. They will get an average raise of 7.5 percent in 2004 and 5.5 percent in 2005. In exchange for higher rises which, as customary, will be applied in two installments each year, GSEE agreed to defer the second installment until September 1, both in 2004 and 2005, instead of July 1. Specifically, employees will get a pay raise of 4 percent, retroactively applied, from January 1, 2004 and a further rise of 2 percent from September 1. Minimum wages will get an extra 8 euros’ raise and minimum monthly salaries an extra 8.50 euros. On January 1, 2005, employees will get a 2.2 percent rise and a further 2.2 percent rise from September 1. (With inflation expected to average around 3 percent, or slightly more, both years, the rises are well above the inflation level.) The possibility of a 39-hour working week will be discussed after the Olympics. Also, employers and the GSEE agreed to ask the Labor Ministry for a more flexible regime regarding overtime up to an extra five hours per week. At present, ministry approval is required for overtime. GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos claimed that the parties «found the will to agree on a major issue for the workers and the economy.» The end results strengthen employee incomes and contribute to an accelerated effort to achieve economic and social convergence with the older European Union member states. SEV Chairman and Executive President Odysseas Kyriakopoulos said the end result is «compatible with what the economy can afford… the way pay raises will be awarded, the cost to enterprises will be less than 5 percent annually.» The representative of pro-communist unions within GSEE left before the end of talks, calling the agreement «a provocation.»