ATHENS- Christmas this year for many Greeks is no reason to celebrate as they come to the end of a four year of recession and an economic crisis with 17.5 percent unemployment, 500,000 people with no income at all, Europe’s fastest-rising rates of homelessness and suicide and the prospects that 2012 will be even worse. As public servants saw their annual Christmas bonuses cut by 75 percent – and for many it coincided with a second income tax assessment that wiped it out – there was little joy and less spending and many businesses fearing a Black Christmas that could have them join the ranks of more than 100,000 that have closed, even as the government is cutting benefits for the blind, lame, deaf and disabled.
With Greece surviving on a bailout of $152 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank because generations of overspending and packing public payrolls with political hires has created a bankrupt country with a $460 billion debt and 10 percent deficit, workers, pensioners and the poor are scraping by while the country’s plutocracy of rich elite business executives and politicians have escaped sacrifice. Greece is courting the Troika for a second bailout of $175 billion, but, like the first, it would come with more austerity measures that have nearly destroyed the life style of many workers, elderly, and the poor and sent hundreds of thousands to government and church soup lines.
Five times as many companies as last year have failed to pay their staff the Christmas bonus this year, according to the number of complaints registered with the competent authorities in Greece, the newspaper Kathimerini reported. With the economic crisis deepening, about 1,500 companies did not pay the Christmas bonus, amounting to a full month’s salary, to their employees, compared with just 300 such cases last Christmas. That’s a violation of the law but with the public sector doing the same by reducing Christmas bonuses severely there is little workers can do about it until after the holidays.
Labor Inspection Squad (SEPE) Special Secretary Michalis Chalaris said that after the completion of the complaints’ monitoring, the squad will proceed to filing charges, which can lead to prison terms of up to six months plus a fine ranging between 25 and 50 percent of the money owed to employees, according to law. Complaints are set to exceed 2,000, as employees can file their complaints by December 31, but by then, of course, Christmas will be over and Greece has a 10-year wait on court cases with more than 1 million waiting to be heard because courts operate only a few hours a day.
Tourists got a taste of what Greeks are enduring when hundreds of foreign visitors were prevented from visiting the Acropolis on Christmas eve after the sites guards called a strike to demand overdue weekend pay. Tourists were left frustrated and had to take photos of themselves outside locked gates. Guards often strike without notice at the country’s museums and archaeological sites.
“It kind of sucks because this is one of your main sites here … It throws off our whole weekend,” Anita Amin, 25, a tourist from the United States, told Reuters news agency. Public workers have been striking for more than 18 months to protest pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and the coming of scores of thousands of layoffs that have hit everyone except the country’s rich elite, politicians, and tax evaders costing the country more than $60 billion, leaving the government to try to make up the deficit by taxing workers, pensioners and the poor on the demands of the Troika.
Guards at many other archaeological sites also went on strike during the holiday weekend, saying they would stay home every weekend until the government hands out the two months of weekend pay it owes them. “We are working people. We have seen our salaries greatly reduced because of the economic crisis and we can’t keep working without getting paid,” said the President of the guards’ union, Yannis Mavrikopoulos. The Acropolis is the leading attraction in a tourism industry which accounts for almost a fifth of the country’s ailing economy. “Considering that tourism is one of the main incomes for the country, I think that they should find another way to express their disappointment with their employers,” said Eduardo Gouveia, 34, a visitor from Brazil.