ECONOMY

‘Heavy’ industry costs

There has been much talk lately about whether the government has a strategy for bolstering employment. The government’s gradual cut in corporate taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent over four years is bound to have a slow effect. It would therefore seem more appropriate to pay attention to issues relating to industrial costs, which have long been neglected since no one appears ready to assume the political cost of effective solutions. Such issues include that of the cost of overtime work, where there is minimal control and inspectors turn a blind eye, as well as the unfair burden on certain enterprises in the form of special benefits for so-called heavy and hazardous occupations (HHO). Peculiar sanctions A close look at the issue reveals that a large number of commercial and industrial firms have to pay these benefits even though the jobs are not HHO. Indeed, one could go as far as saying that some of them, which have carried out impressive technological modernization in recent years, suffer a peculiar form of sanction and must do business while operating under intense competition from imports that have shrunk their domestic market shares. The list of about 80 occupations classified as heavy and hazardous includes jobs that have been largely automated in recent years, as, for instance, that of furnace workers in many industries, whose work is now mechanized and controlled by the computer. The redefinition and reclassification of HHO has been pending for the last four years. Although the state has been committed by law since 2000 to have a conclusion issued by a committee set up exactly for this purpose, this continues to scare off those guided by the compass of political cost. The HHO issue has more than just economic aspects: Its social ones are connected with insurance expectations about early retirement and wage levels, which rise when the allowance for HHO is added. Transitional solutions could be found here, as long as the government decides it should rationalize occupations that belong to this category and turn its attention to industry. The increasing inflexibility of many industrial enterprises due to indirect costs, part of which are due to HHO, is well known. It is not just the social insurance payments (among the highest in Europe), but also the indirect burden from an increase in council tax (often up to 100 percent) or the long wait due to bureaucracy, that exercise tremendous pressure on companies. A good example is the HHO burden in the ceramics industry, which could even reach 40 percent of costs. This sector, making catering products, tiles and sanitary ware, is one of the clearest cases of the lack of adjustment of labor legislation to the modernization of production means. The sector’s competitiveness is hit by imports but maintains its number of jobs, while staff usually retire from the company they started with. In the 1960s, national tile and sanitary ware production covered 95 percent of domestic demand. Twenty years on, the national industry’s contribution to the domestic market is no more than 10 percent. A few exceptions aside, employees in the sector merely observe production without coming into contact with the product at any point. All processes are made by automatic machinery, without noise pollution, and no employee enters the furnace of the 1950s. Instead, the employee is the operator who records the temperatures and the entry and exit times of the carriages. While 20 years ago it took a tile 80 hours to be produced, it now takes just one. This is not the sole example. The HHO list is full of occupations that should have been removed, as well as others that should have been added. Why should the list include journalists at newspapers outside Athens when it does not include employees at the State General Chemical Laboratory? Questions such as this must be answered.