The head of Greece’s largest chamber of commerce, Constantinos Michalos, encouraged businesses yesterday to reduce the number of days worked by employees as a means of avoiding job cuts. The public backing from Michalos for a shorter working week opens the debate on greater flexibility in the Greek labor market as the economy loses steam under the weight of the global slowdown. The president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) said, «It is better to move ahead with more flexible hours than sacking staff.» Michalos reportedly also told officials at pension fund IKA that a cut in the five-day week to three or four days would help avoid mass dismissals. According to EBEA, five large Greek companies, each employing more than 500 people, have already reduced workers’ hours and made corresponding salary cuts. Greece’s tourism sector, which directly and indirectly employs a total of 850,000 people, is one of the industries expected to be hit hard by the global crisis, which is changing consumer spending patterns. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has forecast that Greece’s unemployment rate next year will rise to 8 percent from 7.5 percent in 2008. Labor market rigidities have been blamed for keeping Greece’s jobless numbers high despite years of strong economic growth. Questioned on Michalos’s proposal, National Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis refused to comment on the issue. The General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), Greece’s largest union group, accused the government of being behind the idea. «We will not accept this and will fight to avert such developments. In the December 10 general strike organized by GSEE and ADEDY (public sector union), they will find us opposing them,» said GSEE president Yiannis Panagopoulos.