Are we ready to see the end of some employees’ privileges?

It is not the first time that labor relations and pension fund issues at public utilities and banks dominate the news. More than 20 years ago, former socialist PM Andreas Papandreou had lambasted the demands of the «privileged ones» working in these sectors and passed legislation making it very difficult for them to strike, in order to reduce demands for even higher pay. Still, over the years, the privileges of utility and bank employees have been solidified and the firms themselves are managed in their own unique way. For example, employees at Hellenic Petroleum are paid 17.7 monthly salaries each year and enjoy lengthy vacations. The other side of the coin is represented by Hellenic Railways (OSE), whose losses in 2004 were four times its turnover. The so-called wider public sector functions on the basis of planning that has little to do with its effectiveness. It is no wonder, then, that we see the implementation of projects (i.e. the tramway and the suburban railway) with low performance relative to cost and unnecessary hirings. Tackling the problem will not be easy, because a great deal of the income produced in this country comes from utilities and a drastic reduction will have adverse effects. If employment at utilities and banks was to be suddenly reduce to normal levels, unemployment would explode and consumption decline. Our society is not mature enough to understand and absorb the consequences of even a gradual reduction of this class of privileged employees. It is not mature enough to consider some form of assessment for universities and their teaching staff. Any attempt to introduce work-hour flexibility is denounced as «medieval labor relations.» Our society has been convinced that countries such as the United States, the UK, Austria and others are populated mainly by slaves living in conditions of unbearable unhappiness. Their higher average incomes are considered a mirage.