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The strike in tourism failed, but the problems in the sector remain

23 August 2011 / 15:08:00  GRReporter
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Victoria Mindova

"You can not take us out from the list of heavy and unhealthy jobs," insisted the protesters from the Federation of Workers and Employees of the Food Tourism Sector who announced a 24-hour strike today. Not more than 50 members of the trade union had gathered outside the Ministry of Employment and Social Security to oppose the decision waiters, washers, cooks, chambermaids and confectioners to be considered jobs without risk to health.

"I have been a waiter for 20 years and I'm good at this job. If they remove my job from the list of heavy jobs I will have to work up to 65 years, but no one would hire an old man at that age," said Elias Kokkalis particularly for GRReporter, who is deputy chairman of the union and works as a waiter at Parrinello casino. He is middle-aged and knows that his days in this profession are numbered. Kokkalis fears that if the casino is sold and he is fired he will never be able to find a job in the specialty.

There were many young colleagues of his among the strikers. Older workers admitted that they are not optimistic about the developments. Despite the obvious problems in the sector, the young people said they are not ready to change their professional orientation.

Other problems in the sector are the high percentage of illegal employment in tourism. The President of the Federation of Workers and Employees of the Food Tourism Sector Panagiotis Proundzos said that 550,000 people are employed in tourism and tourism services but only about 230 000 have signed regular contracts including pension and health insurance. The main reason for the high illegal employment in tourism is the very seasonal nature of this occupation. For several months of service, employers and employees have to go through cumbersome process of legalizing the workplace. Very often the employees do not want social security, because it will reduce their total remuneration, but not few are the cases in which the employers themselves prefer to break the legal procedures to reduce costs.

In any case, the long-term losers are the employees and state funds. The workers, although hard working, do not accrue seniority and have no health security. The state does not receive the necessary revenue for health and pension funds and sinks ever deeper into loans to cover the needs specified in the social policies.

We asked the President of the Federation  whether he supports the introduction of "vouchers" (ergosimo), which the part-time or seasonal employees could use to insure themselves without commitment to long term contracts or go through heavy administrative procedures. "The Federation supports the new measure and considers it will put pressure on employers. It will enable the people to be socially secured based on their job and put some order in the sector," replied Panagiotis Proundzos. However, he insisted that the main problem remains the exclusion of waiters, cooks and chambermaids from the list of heavy and unhealthy jobs.

The Federation submitted a list of demands in the office of the Minister of Employment and Social Security George Koutroumanis. They require the changes in the list of heavy and unhealthy jobs not to involve the members of their organization. The trade unions vowed that they will repeat the 24-hour strike in mid-September this year but apparently, the society does not support their position. The work of waiters could not be compared to radiologists’ work, say disgruntled citizens who believe that the demands of the Federation of Workers and Employees of the Food Tourism Sector are unfounded. "If someone is not able to work as a waiter until the age of 65, then the person should retrain in time," say the same voices.

The problems in tourism do not end with the woes of the employees in the sector. Owners of restaurants, taverns and other public catering establishments are facing a new increase in VAT. The plan was set in the middle of summer, when the former Minister of Finance George Papaconstantinou said that VAT in the catering industry would rise from 13% to 23%. As expected, the businessmen opposed the decision and the Ministry of Finance headed by Minister Evangelos Venizelos took a new decision. According to him, the VAT on the price of food in restaurants will be 23% and the VAT on the same foods sold in supermarkets will be 13%.

Another change is that the All Inclusive offers for foreigners will have a lower value of VAT and the same packages will be of higher value of the tax for the Greeks. For the moment, the proposal is open for discussion and there is no final decision. The decision shocked the employees’ organizations and they are awaiting more information before they speak on the matter. "We met the Finance Minister to request reduction of the tax burden on local businesses, and he told us that increases are on their way," said the frustrated chairman of the Hellenic Chamber of Commerce Vassilis Korkidis.

Tags: EconomyMarketsSocietyTourismBlack jobsVouchers
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