“We were given a briefing one afternoon and were told that we would go for practical training the next day,” Stathis Giannelis said of his experience after responding to a job ad for someone with “good communications skills” that promised “regular pay and a monthly bonus.”
The day after the briefing, Stathis was given a stack of advertising pamphlets, dropped off at the beginning of Vassilissis Sofias Avenue in central Athens and told to leave the pamphlets at the entrance of apartments and not on cars. That was the job.
“I rang a doorbell in the first building and was abused over the intercom,” Stathis remembered. “Then I started to tell whoever answered that I was a tenant and had forgotten my front-door key so I would get buzzed in. It was like being in a weird movie. One woman threatened to call the police and at another building the superintendent made me go back and collect all the pamphlets I had left at the doors of four floors’ worth of apartments.”
On the evening of his first day, Stathis returned to the company’s headquarters, exhausted, only to get fired.
“They told me that someone had driven by earlier in the day and had not seen me at my ‘post.’ I told them that I was probably inside a building at the time, but then I realized that this is how they work: They take you on, make you work for a day and then fire you without pay,” he said.
This is but one account of how so-called mini-jobs work in Greece. The institution of minor employment may not exist formally in the law, but there are hundreds of men and women across the country trying to eke out a living in such jobs. All that’s mini about these jobs in Greece is the pay and the prospects. When it comes to the toil and trouble, it is all maxi and employers take advantage of people’s need for work.
Eleni Karakatsani is a 22-year-old law student who found a job last summer at a law office at the end of term.
“It was a token salary, less that 200 euros a month, but I thought it would be valuable work experience,” she explained.
It was her first job, so she didn’t feel she could object when the lawyer she was working for made her sit at the kitchen table and type up reams and reams of handwritten documents because he didn’t know how to use a computer. Eleni was hired to work just two or three hours a day, helping out, but in a few weeks she ended up opening the office in the morning and shutting it up at night – for the same money.
“I ran all the errands,” she said. “When the lawyer brought his son to the office, I had to run across the street to get him some chocolate. I was often sent to the supermarket for supplies when we ran out of milk or sugar or something.”
Eleni did not complain, until August rolled around. She remembers that it was a very hot day and Athens was empty and the city dwellers had left for their holidays.
“The lawyer asked me to go to Omonia Square to pick up some photocopies. The office was in Gyzi [about 5 kilometers away]. When I asked him for cab fare he told me that when he was a young man he’d walk from Faliro [on the southern coast of the capital] to Pangrati [in the center] every day. The temperature outside was 38 degrees Celsius, and I ended up getting sunstroke. He fired me by telephone the next day because I didn’t return to the office the previous afternoon,” said Eleni.
For young people in Greece today, it’s a Catch-22: Employers have no shortage of willing workers to choose from and people who want to work have no plethora of jobs to choose from; the power is all in the employers’ hands, meaning that workers think twice before refusing to carry out a task, however wrong it may be.
“I worked at a video store,” explained Manos Antypas, who at age 22 took on a part-time afternoon job for 350 euros a month. “The owner read my resume and saw that I had studied information technology. He asked me ‘take a look’ at his computer.”
Manos turned up at his boss’s house at 7 p.m. after work and spent five hours fixing the computer.
“He didn’t even offer me a glass of water. When I told him that he needed a new part, he dismissed it and said that he didn’t care to fix it if it needed money. It was past midnight when I left his house in Pefki [northern Athens]. Of course he never offered to pay for my taxi,” said Manos.
Giorgos, who asked Kathimerini not to print his last name, was recruited by a friend from school who promised that he would be making 1,300 euros a months for doing very little.
He went with his friend to a building in the suburb of Aghios Dimitrios, eastern Athens, and entered a vast hall full of cubicles with people manning telephones. He was told that he would get a monthly salary and a bonus if he reached certain targets. The job was selling humidifiers for children’s rooms at 30 euros apiece.
“I was given a list of phone numbers and told to start right away. I would make about four calls a minute; most people hang up before 15 seconds. But I had to hit my targets,” said Giorgos.
The young man remembers some of the incredible things he saw.
“A girl who came on the same day as me and was sitting close by would cry on the phone and beg clients to buy, saying that if they didn’t she would lose her job. Another guy would call elderly people and pretend to be a friend of their son or grandson so he could make a sale.”
In his first week on the job, Giorgos only managed to sell humidifiers to his mother, his two sisters and a friend, who was also the only one with a baby.
“Once my first week was over, I was called into the office and fired. They gave me 90 euros and said it was because I didn’t reach any targets,” he recalled. “I went to get my things from my desk and there was already another guy sitting there.”