NEWS

Ippokambos

Ippokambos was a high-profile ship repair company which had a won an award in 2001 as the largest Greek export firm. The company had 350 workers when it closed in April 2003. The staff, from 22 different fields and with 17-28 years experience, were suddenly out of work with the company owing them thousands of euros in wages. In 1999, the company’s owner had received a subsidy of several million drachmas (thousands in euros), but by late 2001 there was a fluidity problem and in 2003 (with 14 large contracts in progress), it already owed huge sums to banks. The staff, who had not been paid consistently since 2002, were not paid at all. Now they are taking legal action to get 20 million euros in back pay and compensation. «At first the government provided training programs and grants to keep us quiet. But you can’t go from being a carpenter to a barber at 55,» says the workers’ group president, Damianos Ninaios, 39. «The company had problems in 1994 too, but it recovered with the help of the workers. We thought the same would happen in 2003. We told them to pay us a basic weekly wage until things improved a bit. They ended up owing every worker 20,000 euros in wages. In the hope that the company would turn around, people went and got consumer loans, and now people who have worked for 18-25 years are at risk of losing their homes to the bank.» The workers have repeatedly asked the banks to freeze their loans until they find work again. «But nothing happened,» says Ninaios. «The banks only do that to the workers. They don’t touch employers or embezzlers. The bank is threatening me over a loan my wife took out three-and-a-half years ago. Where can I get 700 euros a month? Another bank is asking me for more installments. «For four years my child has been dogged by the problem of Ippokambos. A couple of days ago, I took him out of the bath and went to wrap him in a towel with the company logo on it and he started shuddering. The Ippokambos story has ruined us and our families.» There are no jobs and the situation is even worse in Zoni Peramatos, where most of the former Ippokambos workers have gone. «There are thousands out of work and it’s whoever gets in first. We’ve had to work cleaning waste tanks on Psyttaleia. There were three Greeks among 80 foreigners in dreadful conditions, without the most elementary health and safety precautions.» Despite the assurances of politicians, there was no provision for workers aged 56 and over. «They still work for 20 days, are out of work for a month, then work for three days. They only get 50 social insurance stamps a year, which means they’ll be 70 before they can get a pension. «In 2003, I was making 2,500 a month with overtime,» says Yiannis, 39, who worked for 18 years at Ippokambos. «I worked like crazy, I didn’t go on holidays, but I got paid. I could buy clothes for my children. It’s not like that today, when it’s dark and one of the children is sick and my heart clenches because I can’t afford to take a taxi if we have to go to hospital. I wake up in the morning and my wife asks me if I’ll take the children to school and I’m too embarrassed to leave the house because the neighbors ask, ‘Haven’t you found a job yet?’ My mother-in-law gets free meals from the Church. She has a monthly pension of 500 euros and gives us 100-150. I’m ashamed, but I take it, because I have to feed my children. I’ve got to the point of saying: ‘Mother of God, don’t let me turn bad.’ You go crazy. And you feel like a wreck. And bit by bit you get the idea that you’re useless. Luckily my wife stands by me and we haven’t separated.»