By Andy Dabilis
In the cool dim of a fading October light, a broom in his hand, his glance cast downwards towards the grey concrete he sweeps, Theodoros Dalis works outside his modest bookbinding business in an industrial area just west of Athens.
He is alone because he was forced to lay off the only two workers he had, victims of Greece’s economic crisis.
The “haircut” Greece is giving international lenders by providing 113 billion euros in bailout loans — only half what is owed — doesn’t mean a thing to him, he says.
“I feel low psychologically. We don’t hear anything positive from the markets,” Dalis, 28, tells SETimes. The break for Greece won’t help him or the people he let go, he says. “The economy is going to fall even more.”
Prime Minister George Papandreou says Greece’s public sector is bloated and bankrupting the country. He claims he had no choice but to implement austerity measures at the demand of the EU-IMF-ECB Troika providing the rescue loans, but has promised the cut in the payback amount means there will be no more.
But, for most Greeks the damage has already been done. “The austerity measures are a poverty trap … they hit the most vulnerable parts of the population,” National Centre for Social Research director Manolis Chrysakis told SETimes. “We have seen a significant cut in the standard of living.”
He said the worst off may be pensioners, some trying to get by on as little as 300 euros a month — for which they will be taxed.
Greece’s young are bearing the brunt too, and about 70% want to leave the country.
Silia Vitoratou, 31, a statistician, said the haircut will benefit the government but not her or her friends. “It’s not the loans that will pay the salaries and pensions. It’s the pensions and salaries that will pay the loans,” she tells SETimes.
For 18 months, protests against the austerity measures have failed, and Elias Eliopoulos, general secretary of ADEDY, the public workers union representing more than 360,000 municipal employees, said the government has unfairly blamed his members.
Though many critics say the public workforce is redundant and ineffective, Eliopoulos disagrees. “For those who say we are lazy, tell us someone who works more than eight hours a day.”
He said the austerity measures will take nearly 10 billion euros from workers’ salaries, as well as more than 100,000 jobs. Greece’s unemployment rate is above 16% and climbing, and more than 100,000 businesses have closed.
Maria Garifallaki, 52, works in the private sector but is fearful. The government is pushing for a 25% wage cut to make the economy more competitive. She says all that’s done is lead to layoffs in the dental supply company where she works. “Dentists do not order medical supplies because people have put off going to the dentist,” she tells SETimes.
One worker has been let go and she said she’s anxious every day. “Given my age, it would be difficult to find another job — if there are any,” she says. The haircut, she said, will not remedy anything for workers.