ATHENS – A month after the Greek government raised the minimum wage for the first time since the economic crisis that ravaged the country’s economy, workers in the Mediterranean nation continued to confront a sense of hopelessness, low salaries and a highly unregulated labor market.
Workers in Greece have seen an increase on their payslips for the first time since 2012. Then, on the insistence of the International Monetary Fund managing the country’s huge economic bailout with the European Union in the aftermath of the 2007/8 financial crisis, it was cut from 752 euros (around $854 at the time) to 586 euros gross, or 510 for under 25s.
Now it stands at 650 euros gross ($738.50 at the current exchange rate), an 11 percent rise that was implemented alongside the elimination of age distinction.
With her pay of 628 euros a month, Maria, a secretary at a private cultural center in Chalcis, some 70 kilometers (42 miles) north of the capital Athens, does consider herself to be middle class. She works eight hours a day, although often stays a little later to finish off tasks.
“I live in my mother’s house, I can’t afford to have a car and in my free time I meet up with friends at the house, we rarely get to eat out,” said Maria, 38, who declined to give her surname.
Bills and daily expenses occupy her thoughts, although she still makes sure to save a little money every day to put toward things she likes, such as traveling abroad a couple of times a year when she can afford it.
Maria does not think that the minimum wage hike helps the salary situation in Greece, and nor does she think it makes a real change to workers rights.
“When an employer of a small business has to pay so many taxes and find unskilled people to pay the minimum wage, then all those young people with a degree and qualifications are considered overqualified,” she said.
Some 72.8 percent of workers in Greece earn less than 1,000 euros a month and it is the second-worse-rated nation in the EU in terms of working poverty levels (14.1 percent of the labor force is in poverty) after Romania (18.9 percent), and followed closely by Spain (13.1 percent), according to Eurostat.
The Greek government estimated its wage reform has recuperated some 600,000 jobs and had indirectly financially benefited 280,000 people, given that over 20 distinct types of social welfare are linked to minimum salary rates.
Despite this, the longterm effect the change will have on the country’s gross salary, or how many people the rise would ultimately benefit, remained unclear, said Yorgos Aryitis, scientific director at the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE).
“There is the risk that full-time contracts will become temporary, or that part-time contracts for six-hour days are lowered to five-hour days so employers don’t have to pay the minimum wage,” he said.
Some 39.1 percent of working-age youth are unemployed in Greece. The unemployment rate, in general, sat at 41.1 percent overall.
Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced the end of the country’s multi-billion dollar, decade-long rescue program with the IMF and the EU in August 2018, although his decision to raise the minimum wage left creditors wary.
Greece was the EU nation worst-hit by the 2008 economic crisis. The government at the time entered into a massive bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund and the EU totaling 289 billion euros ($330 billion).
Six months after the end of the third rescue package, Maria still sees no light at the end of the tunnel. She said that the low salaries and mass emigration of young people proved that Greece had not, in fact, left the crisis behind.
“I hope that one day this changes, but I have no hope for a better future,” she said.