SEV chief reiterates tough stance on collective pay talks

The head of a major employers’ organization yesterday reiterated his position on low pay raises, a reduced emphasis on collective wage agreements and a rise in the retirement age, putting him on a collision course with the conservative government, which is trying hard to convince voters that its economic policies will benefit the poor and the middle class. Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, chairman and executive president of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), told reporters yesterday that a new round of talks with the Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) will begin on Wednesday. Kyriakopoulos defended SEV’s proposal to offer a 2.8 percent raise – less than the forecast average inflation for 2006 – saying that «SEV prefers to be useful rather than agreeable» and added that the 2.8 percent proposal is «generous and not harsh.» «We, in Greece, should not be talking of (pay) raises higher than those in the eurozone countries,» said Kyriakopoulos, referring to the fact that Greece’s inflation is higher than the eurozone average. He also presented data from Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, showing that, from 2001 to 2005, wages grew a cumulative 9.8 percent in the eurozone and 29.9 percent in Greece. Kyriakopoulos reiterated his call to freeze wages in areas of high unemployment and in sectors in financial distress, such as textiles. He also called for a more flexible legal status for new entrants to the job market, a policy similar to the one passed in France, which has led to riots in that country. Despite knowing that his proposals have not been welcomed by GSEE, Kyriakopoulos expressed his optimism that negotiations will lead to a collective agreement. He urged, however, businesses and unions to negotiate and sign enterprise-specific agreements without waiting for the outcome of the collective talks, as is the established practice. He hinted that SEV might agree to a 3.5 percent increase, but no higher, in the minimum wage. On the issue of financing the social security system, Kyriakopoulos agreed with the government’s call for a broad-based dialogue but called for a swift solution that would include raising retirement age levels. «This is self-evident, when data show that each year our expected lifespan increases by a year,» he said. «SEV is escalating its attack on workers’ rights by widening the scope of its demands in order to push for the total dismantling of workers’ workplace, economic and pension rights,» GSEE said in a statement yesterday. «In order for the industry representatives to appear credible, they must accept their own obligations, especially concerning investments and job creation before they voice their opinion, or, rather their demands, toward employees,» said Evangelos Venizelos of opposition PASOK.