Unions, employers reject wage cuts

Employers and labor unions found some common ground during the first day of wage talks on Wednesday but it appears that neither side is willing to agree to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos?s suggestion that private sector workers? salaries should be reduced.

Papademos had indicated that lower wages would help Greece become more competitive but union and employer representatives agreed that the minimum wage of 751 euros gross and the two extra monthly salaries that many private sector workers receive each year should not be reduced or scrapped.

?We are on the right track,? said Vassilis Korkidis, the head of the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE). ?The social partners agree that the minimum wage is not to blame for the recession and businesses closing down.?

Yiannis Panagopoulos, the head of Greece?s private sector umbrella union GSEE, criticized the government for suggesting that it might force a law through Parliament that adjusts salaries if it is not happy with the outcome of union and employer talks.

?We cannot have a dialogue under the threat of decrees that are reminiscent of years gone by,? he said, adding that the apparent pressure from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for wage reforms was not helping either.

Unionists and employers agreed that there should be no change to the current national collective contract, which expires at the end of the year. This means that low wage earners would be in line for a 2.6 percent increase, which is below inflation, later this year.

Talks are due to continue either this or next week to reach a final decision, which is likely to include a proposal for social security contributions to be reduced to ease the financial pressure on employers and workers. The head of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), Dimitris Daskalopoulos, said the two sides were close to agreement on this issue.

Meanwhile, a state-funded program that will provide short-term jobs for up to 120,000 unemployed people over the next three years was also launched on Wednesday by Interior Minister Tassos Yiannitsis.

The scheme is designed to employ between 15,000 and 25,000 people for up to 135 days in rolling projects to maintain infrastructure.

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