ECONOMY

Unions want jobs

Unions will press for more hirings, a more determined effort to combat inflation and will fight any attempt to further deregulate the job market or reform the social security system in the direction of lower pensions and more working years required to get a full pension, the head of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), an umbrella organization for all employees except civil servants, said yesterday. Ministers responded that the government has no intention of «surprising» the unions and that they will proceed by consensus. GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos presented a report on the state of the Greek economy by the Labor Institute, a GSEE-affiliated think tank. The report’s main findings are the following: – The rate of growth of productive investment more than doubled in 2003 compared to 2002 (12.6 percent vs 5.7 percent). – Company investment in equipment resumed its upward course in 2003 after a two-year decline. – The average productivity of Greek employees stands at 88 percent of the EU average (before this year’s expansion) and their purchasing power parity at 83 percent of the EU average. – In order for wages to converge with those of other EU members, the minimum pay rise for 2004 must be at least 5.3 percent (a target exceeded last May with the signing of the collective wage agreement). – GDP growth in Greece in 2003 was based on internal demand, which grew 6.9 percent. The rate of demand growth is expected to drop this year. Polyzogopoulos said the Greek economy is dynamic, with lots of potential, and called on the government to «skillfully disengage itself, over the coming years, from the neo-liberal model prevalent in European economic policy.» He attacked the new conservative government’s audit of state finances, which he called a «farce,» asking that it not serve as an alibi for the government’s failure to deliver on its pre-election promises. Polyzogopoulos also called on the government to continue linking subsidies for private investment with measurable employment targets and emphasized union opposition to any deregulation in the labor market. Defending the government’s audit, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said unions ought to be interested in transparent public finances. Otherwise, he was conciliatory, promising a «policy of national consensus» on employment. Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos added that there would be no belt-tightening policies. Christos Protopapas, a former Socialist minister and Polyzogopoulos’s predecessor at GSEE, accused the government of failing to undertake any pro-growth initiatives and challenged it to present a timetable to fulfill its promises for more jobs.