Staying unemployed by choice

A surprising 8.12 percent of Greeks who are registered unemployed say clearly they do not wish to have a job, according to data for the last quarter of 2004 by the state Human Resources Organization (OAED). As many as 42,815 people, out of a total of 527,222 recorded as unemployed, responded that they do not wish to work or to use OAED’s job-finding facilities during the process of renewing their unemployment card. The number may actually be much higher, as many may have viewed the relevant question with suspicion. The refusal of thousands of jobless Greeks to use OAED to find work not only proves the organization’s ineffective intervention in the job market for years; it also illustrates the double definition that «work» carries in Greece. For many, work has a meaning only when it is in the public sector. Therefore the unemployment card is useful, but only as a certificate for being granted points toward entering a public organization or the jointly funded training programs. Further, a number of card-holders may be working and securing an income above the monthly allowance of 311.25 euros or the minimum wage, which reaches just 580 euros (gross). The large number of those not wishing to be employed but who continue to register as unemployed suggests the existence of undeclared work that provides sufficient income. Citizens claiming to be unemployed would probably abandon the gray market if given the chance to work in the public sector. OAED’s director, Giorgos Vernardakis, is seeking a way to distinguish between those seeking work in the private sector and those only aiming for a civil servant’s job. The burning desire of many Greeks to find a post in the public sector is well known, and the more unemployment grows the greater the push to work in a state job will become. The question, though, is whether and how this machine that produces fake unemployment will be stopped; whether OAED can at last provide, through its data, the real picture in the job market, so that programs and policies can target those social groups really interested in finding a job in the private sector. Yet even if OAED manages to give an accurate portrayal of the actual size of unemployment, it cannot create the conditions for reducing unemployment. Matching supply with demand cannot be done without creating new jobs. This is why employment policies, despite partial corrections in programs and allowances, tend to be ineffective. Which economy sectors can develop new jobs? Which have prospects for competitiveness? Which sectors have lost forever the game of competitiveness, to the point where continuing to support or subsidize them through programs is meaningless? Unless these questions are answered, it is certain that this government, like its predecessors, will be unable to handle unemployment, the greatest worry for Greek families, according to surveys. Pressure for enlarging the public sector yet further, with or without seasonal workers, will continue. After all, Greeks have a peculiar relationship with paid work in the private sector, which they only prefer if it means being self-employed; working for a boss is a poor second option. Greeks frequently see tension between managers and employees and appear suspicious in their social relations, a survey on «quality of life» by the European Foundation for the Improvement in Life and Work Conditions found last summer. Tense relations In the survey, conducted in the 25 EU states and Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, the Greeks are tops in finding tense relations between managers and staff, with 61 percent, followed by Lithuania and Poland with 53 percent. This, the survey’s study suggests, is because Greeks tend to emphasize tensions, perhaps reflecting their temperament. Cypriots rank highest in their lack of trust in social relations, with Greeks being fifth out of 28 countries. The ability to postpone entry in an unwanted work situation is probably linked with the Mediterranean living model, as a high percentage of people aged between 18-34 years live with their parents.