NGOs and labor take up plans for better jobs for immigrants

The absorption of immigrants and other vulnerable groups in the Greek labor market is making a certain degree of progress but a lot remains to be done before the situation can be considered satisfactory, contributors to a conference on support services for immigrant workers, organized by the Doctors Without Borders non-governmental organization, said. Most support initiatives are undertaken within the framework of the EU-subsidized program EQUAL, an instrument of the European Strategy for Employment, which was briefly presented by Fotini Tsiller, head of the Labor Ministry’s department managing activities under EQUAL. Tsiller said the Greek program has been structured on five sub-programs and nine thematic fields common throughout the EU, designed to tap the experience of previous initiatives and promote coordination. In part, the initiatives address the need for improving the quality of jobs offered to immigrants. Referring to the obstacles faced by immigrants in their integration into the labor market, Giorgos Alygizakis, a member of the board of Athens Labor Center (EKA), said, «The laws for their legalization were tailor-made for lawyers,» although he recognized that «there are lawyers who do their job properly.» «Buying the minimum of 150 social security stamps required costs 990 euros, to which if you add the 145 euros for the residence permit and lawyers’ fees, you come near 1,300 euros,» he said. «Such problems were initially compounded by the fact that no less than 42 documents were required for the residence and work permits, which, of course, meant losses in work days,» he added. Alygizakis noted that there are employers who do provide confirmation of employment but without paying social security contributions, while others, exploiting immigrants’ poor knowledge of the language, make them sign, together with the hiring document, another of voluntary resignation from the job. He cited the case of a Moldovan painter who was kept by force in a villa on Mount Pendeli, north of Athens, by a publisher and produced sketches for school books. «She was later hired as an office worker by the publisher’s father, but when she asked for her social security stamps, she was threatened. Ultimately, she came to EKA and the matter was solved.» Alygizakis also noted that an estimated 60,000 immigrant domestic assistants work for very low wages without insurance. The evasion of contributions has a further financial impact on the Social Security Foundation (IKA), whose 1.9 million insured include 503,000 immigrants. He proposed a series of remedial measures such as the issuing of clear and updated instructions to immigrants, cooperation with newspapers in their native languages, publicizing centers that deal with migrants, cooperation with ethnic associations, Greek-language programs and legal action against employers withholding rightful payment from immigrant workers. The biggest problem of all remains the language, while immigrants’ anxiety to secure a basic income makes it difficult for them to follow employment support programs; this mires the immigrants in menial jobs, other contributors to the conference noted. The head of the Greek programs, Tzanetos Antypas, said that Doctors Without Borders’ next step will be the creation of a new non-governmental organization which will deal solely with the socially and economically excluded.