‘If they give me a job, I’ll work till I’m 70’

Loukas Barboutis is a highly skilled technician who was employed until recently along with 300 other people at Ippokampos, a construction company active on five continents but which «had the rug pulled out from under its feet by the banks.» At present, the company owes its staff 4.6 million euros in back wages and compensation. The staff have taken out an injunction against the company’s only fixed asset that was not already mortgaged. Meanwhile, the bank has auctioned a huge factory at a starting price of 200,000 euros. Good times and bad «In life there are always good and bad times. I know that very well,» said Barboutis. «But some of my fellow workers have had their electricity cut off, others have been evicted from their homes. Some don’t have enough money to pay for their children’s schooling, the mortgage payments on their homes or cars that they bought based on their previous earnings… In the shipping construction sector, 130 people aren’t working – they are on strike continually. Imagine now that we 300 have been added to their number.» Barboutis has applied for a job at a large firm and is awaiting an answer. «If they give me a trial run, they’ll employ me for certain. But waiting for the telephone call is terrible. Of course, my first choice would be to go back to my old job, if the company reopens,» he said. Barboutis’s position was classified as hazardous to the health and was, therefore, awarded a bonus, meaning that his social security, tax and other payments amounted to about 880 euros per month. «Who is going to pay that for me now? I can’t do it on my own. But wherever else I go, they’ll want me to work without benefits because, although I might be in good health, I am 55 years old. The fact that I can do 60 push-ups means nothing to them.» Barboutis said he and his fellow workers want to get back on the job, not be part of a «program,» as suggested by Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas recently. ‘It’s work we want’ «What are we, drug addicts? It is work that we want. I know my job and I can do it well. My employer has given me a reference saying that I am highly skilled and very productive. If they give me a job, I don’t mind working till I’m 70.» Last Christmas, Barboutis told his family that he had been paid 3,000 euros, which was a normal amount. He went to the bank, withdrew money and bought new bicycles for his grandchildren and gave everyone else something. «I did everything we usually do. Why should I spoil their Christmas?»