Younger Greeks struggle to find good, stable jobs

Greece’s young people are facing job prospects that are far bleaker than those faced by their parents decades ago, a trend which could have serious repercussions on Greek society, according to employment figures. The trend is visible throughout Europe and recently has been highlighted in France, where young workers and students who are already worried about the country’s climbing unemployment are rioting over labor law changes that allow employees under 26 to be fired without reason. It’s a reversal of the promising direction in which Greece and other Western European countries were heading for half a century. For decades after World War II, a population boom in Europe coincided with an increase in jobs, production and the power of labor unions. Production has gotten cheaper and faster, and a slew of new technologies have emerged. Yet young people cannot find jobs, even if they have all or more of the requisite qualifications for them. Diplomas don’t help In 2005, the country recorded 204,000 unemployed people. That’s a decrease since 1999, when the number almost reached 300,000. But look at the figures more closely and it’s a different picture for young Greeks, who register an unemployment rate that is twice as high as it is for the rest of the population. According to official statistics, one in five young people who are looking for work are unemployed. For women between the ages of 15 and 29, the situation is worse: one in four are jobless. Half of the unemployed in Greece are young adults. Joblessness is also not tied to the level of education. In 2005, 27,000 graduates of universities and 48,000 graduates of technical colleges were unemployed. In 1988, there were 188,334 unemployed young people, but they were not educated in the same way as young Greeks are today. Most of the jobless then had only finished elementary school (29,529) or junior high school (25,856), whereas graduates of universities and technical colleges had better luck, registering 19,187 and 16,193, respectively, on unemployment lists. Low-quality jobs Another problem is that the jobs available today are of a lower quality than the ones offered in the past. A great percentage of young people work at jobs that pay very poorly and don’t include health insurance as part of the deal – reducing them essentially to being «under the table» employees. The problem isn’t just that young people comprise the work force of poor-paying, low-skill jobs. Jobs that have traditionally been considered stable and respectable – such as bank employees, mechanics and public utilities employees – are also adopting practices that are common in shady employment practices, such as paying for work by invoice rather than providing an on-the-books salary. Since young people are getting used to working this way, they have none of the labor security or benefits that their parents did. The number of stable jobs with tenure are decreasing, while the number of less-secure jobs, such as contract or temporary employment, are increasing. Insurance benefits, decent wages and protection against unfair dismissal are not part of the deal in such jobs. Many people are also employed only part-time. According to statistics from the Institute of Labor affiliated with the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), 63,500 young people between the ages of 15 and 29 have part-time jobs. Over 9 percent of Greeks aged 20-24 are employed part-time. More than 37,000 of part-time workers say they are seeking full-time employment but can’t find it. Apprenticeships and practical training also don’t help in the job search. In many cases, apprenticeships are thinly veiled sham operations that take advantage of young job seekers, says Yiannis Kouzis, a professor at Panteion University and a fellow at the GSEE’s Institute of Labor. The same thing happens to people enrolling in job-seeking programs for the unemployed, such as Stage. These young people often supply cheap labor but learn little to secure a good permanent job in the future. Movement brewing? In some areas, young Greeks are facing worse conditions than those suffered by young people in France. For example, Kouzis says, the French are currently protected by a law saying that employers must state the reason for firing an employee, but there is no similar protection in Greece. Also, unemployment benefits are very low – about 300 euros a month – and don’t vary based on the unemployed person’s circumstances. Also, the benefits last for just a year and do not cover young people who are looking for their first jobs. Jobs for life are in the process of being abolished and insurance laws are being chipped away, with each revision hurting younger people. «Employers want to cut labor costs,» Kouzis says. «They start with younger employees, but it is obvious that in the course of this change they will create a new model that will affect the entire labor force.»