Unions and employers yesterday began negotiations on the new National Collective Labor Contract, at the headquarters of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE). Yiannis Panagopoulos, the GSEE president, said that all parties have a clear intention for «a speedy and at the same time effective negotiation.» He also stressed that the social forces must display maturity and efficiency at a time when «the political world is in trouble and the government is preparing for a policy of austerity, which is a confession of failure of its economic policy.» He called on employers’ unions to contribute toward a commonly accepted solution so that agreement can be reached on the contract in an atmosphere of mutual understanding. Although the employers’ side was not prepared to discuss pay rises above inflation, there was a preliminary agreement regarding the procedure for parallel negotiations on both salary and institutional issues. The second meeting has been set for next Wednesday, the aim being the signing of a two-year contract. The head of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), Dimitris Daskalo-poulos, expressed his optimism that solutions will be found to all issues that are brought to the negotiating table, adding that the discussion touched on «an expanded agenda that took in all sides of the labor market.» The unions are demanding substantial salary rises to offset the effects of inflation, increases in productivity and the gradual harmonization of salaries with the average of the first 15 members of the European Union. They note that the minimum wage level in Greece represents just 52 percent of the EU average. Dimitris Armenakis, the head of the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE), was less optimistic, predicting long negotiations for what will be the most difficult contract of the last 10 years. When factoring in the contracts per sector, he said workers had received nominal rises of 27 percent and real rises of 12 percent in the last few years.