ECONOMY

Unions want EU wages

One result of the introduction of the common currency on January 1 will be to make price and wage differentials between eurozone members much more apparent to working people. As wage differentials are much more pronounced than price differentials, ministers have publicly expressed apprehension that such comparisons will fuel demands for parity with foreign colleagues, thereby boosting inflationary pressures. Such apprehension received its first corroboration yesterday when the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) indicated it would press for a policy of convergence of wages and salaries with other countries in the eurozone. In its customary annual open invitation to employers’ organizations and the Economy and Finance, Labor and Social Security ministries, for negotiations on the new National Collective Labor Agreement for 2002, GSEE said it would press for pay raises representing the sum of the projected inflation and workers’ participation in boosting productivity and the gross national product. GSEE argues that while the performance of the Greek economy as measured by indices such as the growth rate, fixed capital investment and labor productivity was positive, unemployment remained at high levels and the living standards of the poorest segments of society had improved only minimally in the last 20 years. «Greek companies are showing an impressive growth in profitability. OECD data on profitability ranks Greece first among member states of the organization. This rise in profitability is mainly due to a fall in the share of labor in the national product. (The latest available data refer to 1997 but we estimate there has been no substantial divergence since then). .. Working people have made sacrifices and are, naturally, demanding a substantial increase in the purchasing power of their wages. .. Greece ranks in one of the last places (in Europe) in terms of unit labor costs,» said GSEE. According to a study by GSEE’s Labor Institute, the lowest wages fell 6.75 percent in the 1990-2001 period, while average pay is estimated to have risen 6-8 percent. Other demands include a retroactive sum estimated at between 0.5 and 0.7 percent, representing the difference between the initially projected and the actual inflation rate for 2001, a 35-hour working week and a 100-percent rise in pay for work on holidays. Disparities The average monthly salary of a Greek public servant is 990 euros, when his Belgian colleague receives 1,940 euros, the Finn 1,945, the Swede 2,200 and the German 2,540 euros. Basic monthly wages compare much the same, averaging 400 euros in Portugal, 458 in Greece, 700 in Spain, 1,050 in Ireland, 1,083 in Finland, 1,090 in France, 1,118 in Belgium and 1,154 in the Netherlands. But such comparisons do not reveal significant differences in spending patterns. Most Greek families, for instance, in contrast to other countries, spend a significant chunk of their income on private – and largely tax-exempt – tuition fees for their children. Greece has the second most expensive postal service charges after Finland. On the other hand, electric power, a large number of services and various types of fresh produce appear to be cheaper in Greece. On the whole, in terms of purchasing power, Greek wages and salaries stand at about 65 percent of the eurozone average.