No rest for debt weary Greeks

Greece is under pressure to work a six-day week. (Reuters)

Greece is under pressure to work a six-day week. (Reuters)

Greece's eurozone creditors are demanding that the government in Athens introduces a six-day working week.

The demand is contained in a leaked letter from the "troika" of the country's lenders – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In the letter, the officials policing Greece's compliance with the austerity package imposed in return for the bailout insist on radical labour market reforms, including minimum wages, overtime limits and flexible working hours. They are likely to worsen the standoff between the government and organised labour in Greece.

The troika inspectors were scheduled to return to Athens this week to scrutinise Greek observance of its bailout terms. They are expected to deliver a verdict next month that will determine whether Greece is will be allowed to remain in the single currency.

The letter, sent last week to the Greek finance and labour ministries, orders the government to extend the working week into the weekend.

"Measure: increase flexibility of work schedules; increase the number of maximum workdays to six days per week for all sectors.

"Increase flexibility of work schedules; set the minimum daily rest to 11 hours; delink the working hours of employees from the opening hours of the establishment; eliminate restrictions on minimum-maximum time between morning and afternoon shifts; allow the consecutive two-week leave to be taken any time during the year in seasonal sectors."

European supervision
The instructions focus on labour market reforms, calling for the national labour inspectorate to be radically reformed and put under European supervision.

There should be a permanent "single-rate statutory minimum wage", seen as an incentive for getting people back to work in a country in which unemployment has soared to about 30%.
"Unemployment is too high and policies are needed to prevent it from becoming structural," the letter states.

It also calls for non-wage labour costs to be lowered, employers' welfare contributions to be cut and the deregulation of the labour market.

There is growing conviction in Berlin and Brussels that the government of Antonis Samaras in Athens has fallen well behind on the economic and fiscal reform programmes imposed in return for two bailouts in the past two years.

The Greek government is struggling to come up with persuasive policies to enact spending cuts of a further €11.6-billion, which were to have been implemented in June to secure the next bailout tranche of more than €30-billion due next month.

Samaras is pleading for more time – four years rather than two – to fulfil debt reduction targets and spending cuts. Extending the deadlines would in effect require more eurozone help and a third bailout. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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