By DINA ROVITHAKI, President of the ‘stage’ workers’ trade union at the Institute for Agricultural
Development and member of the National Co-ordinating Committee of ‘stage’ workers.
THE ‘stage’ programmes in Greece were created by the European Union (EU) as training and work experience programmes.
These 18-month-long-at-a-time programmes, accepted registered unemployed up to 40 years old.
Who are the Greek ‘stage’ workers? High schools’ and technical schools’ graduates; unemployed university graduates; married women and mothers; unemployed teachers; sacked workers; workers with mobility problems; and professional workers which the undeveloped labour market cannot employ.
The programmes operated in the areas of health and social security, in the Ministry for Development, in the social security organisations and in natural environment projects.
The programmes’ aims were to provide the unemployed with work experience and to adjust their own professional skills to the developments and the requirements of the labour market.
None of these aims were upheld, since what occurred was a widespread and long term exploitation of the unemployed workers in those programmes, who were used to fill in the needs of the public sector.
This was done with the lowest labour cost on the part of the state, and with high productivity from ‘stage’ workers who were absolutely dependent on those few euros a month, since in Greece there is no social security for those who have never entered the labour market.
The real aim of those programmes was not training, but making workers dependent on the hope for a full-time position in the Greek public sector.
In Greece, like much else e.g. the cooking of statistics sent to the EU, these programmes were distorted and changed so that the workers who were taken on, ended up carrying out for more than 5 years the tasks of permanent full-time staff; but they received no allowances and benefits and their pension contributions were not paid.
Their salary was just 450 Euros (about £500) a month! Nowhere else in the EU were these programmes carried out under such conditions; and to think that the employer was none other than the Greek state itself!
The so-called guardian of legality and justice, the state, used these people as cheap labour, keeping them as ‘hostages’ for 5 to 6 years promising them permanent jobs!
The state refused them basic labour rights such as holiday allowances and sickness leave and benefits.
These were unknown words to this European state and to this kind of European worker-slave. By placing ‘stage’ workers in full-time jobs, but without rights and proper wages, the state was able to reduce the unemployment figures as well as fill the needs for permanent staff in the public sector! But no-one – trade unions, the justice department, the media, political and social institutions – was concerned with the issue. A strange omerta was imposed by them.
Only the ‘stage’ workers were protesting, but being unorganised their voice was not heard. But the issue came up just before the general election of last October, due to the competition of the political parties to win the ‘stage’ workers’ vote.
Suddenly the six years’ long silence and hypocrisy was substituted by even bigger hypocrisy.
All those responsible for the inhuman work regime, better described as slavery, found out what was going on in these programmes and after a serious two-day thinking, the government’s Assistant Prime Minister Pangalos, and his new ‘just’ and ‘meritocratic’ government provided the ‘proper and just solution’ to the problem, so that the unfairness of all these years was put right.
What the government did makes one marvel at the size of their hypocrisy. These ‘gentlemen’ went ahead and abolished the ‘stage’ programmes and sacked all those already impoverished and unfairly dealt with workers.
The government also punished them by reducing the number of points that they were entitled to, if they were to take part in a future national recruitment competition for the public sector.
Thus, the government forced them to take up legal action against the state as well as organising demonstrations to demand the self evident, that is, the payment of the pension employer contributions and the money owned to them by being paid less than the minimal legal wage for all these years at work.
The government’s hypocrisy did not stop there. They presented the sackings of ‘stage’ workers to the EU as reduction of permanent staff, showing that they are taking measures to reduce the public debt!
But at the same time they are preparing a new recruitment round of short-contract workers (increasing the public debt), for the simple reason that the public sector organisations cannot function properly without the ‘stage’ workers.
The government are sending selected, altered data to the EU! Such procedures with ‘doctored data’ are going on all the time and throughout the whole public sector.
Finally, as regards the pensions system and the empty tills of the Pensions Funds: it is normal that they are in deficit for the simple reason that for many years the Greek state did not pay, using the ‘stage’ workers as cover, the respective pension contributions and social security benefits, thus putting the Pension Funds in great deficit.
We are carrying out our fight, with various forms of mobilizations, against this hypocrisy and we are in the streets demanding today, after 4 to 7 years of continued employment, that which is self evident:
1. Permanent and legal jobs. For the right to a permanent full-time job at the specific position which a worker fills satisfactorily and has been for several years now. By abusing us, they want to take away these jobs from us.
2. Payment of all the legal pension contributions, allowances and benefits.
3. Payment of our withheld wages arising out of our illegally reduced rate of pay during years of work.
4. Not a single sacking.
5. Abolition of all ‘flexible’ forms of work in the public and private sector.
The ‘stage’ workers, despite their impoverishment, the psychological warfare and the unjust persecution against them by the present government, won’t stop to fight for their just demands. Their mobilizations, in every form, will be intensified.