Work in Greece

If it looks like the depression. Feels like the depression....

If it looks like the depression. Feels like the depression….

One of the recurring myths about Greece is that people simply do not work hard or long enough. Yet the most recent authoritative data on the subject show that  Greeks already worked more hours than any other country of the EU-15. Each Greek worker worked almost 2100 hours each year compared to 1400 hours in Germany and the Netherlands, the two countries with the least working hours. Does this mean that Germans or the Dutch are lazy? Of course not.

A recent article published on the blog greeklish by an economist based in Catalonia (see full article here ) argues the case that we should look at how the depression of the 1930s was handled by President Roosevelt. He created more than 2 million jobs in the short term (and more than 1 million in the long term) by forcing employers to reduce the hours of a working week.

Excerpts from the article are shown below.

In August (2013), the Greek government introduced a bill that makes it possible for shops to operate on Sundays (the right for Saturday off has long since been lost) causing the reaction of the church. Judging also from news coverage, the return of a six-day workweek is part of the various packages negotiated between the Troika and the Greek government, even if “dressed up” in the more neutral terms of “flexibility” in working hours. Of course, in times of crisis and unemployment, flexibility means the right of the employer. The five-day workweek is already, de facto, a past for many employees in the Greek private sector who work many more than 40 hours a week without additional compensation.

Contrary to arguments implying that Greeks are lazy and should work more, the most recent statistics of OECD in 2008 (i.e. before the crisis), suggest that the Greeks already worked more hours than any other country of the EU-15

These changes are supposed to take place in order to reduce labor costs and help the Greek economy become competitive again. There are two untold assumptions governing this idea. First of all, that the crisis in Greece is a result of low productivity making the Greek economy non-competitive. Secondly, that productivity will increase if working hours increase. Both of them are wrong, as we argue with Nicholas Ashford, Professor in MIT, in our recent article published in the European Financial Review.

Firstly, the Greek indebtedness is a result of the cheap cost of borrowing after joining the euro, itself driven by the need for cheap money to keep the GDP growing. If Greece was the only indebted country in the West, we would say that this has to do with our undoubtedly low productivity. But, indebted is also traditionally industrial Italy or the up until recently emerging powerhouse of Spain. Both Italy and Spain have extremely competitive multi-national corporations. Ireland suffers from the same crisis of indebtedness as Greece although as late as 2008 it was considered a miracle of productivity through and transition to the information economy. Indebted also are Great Britain and the USA. The bubble of easy money has nothing to do with the productivity of each country. It was the temporary solution of the capitalist system in order to keep the abnormal growth rates needed for its reproduction. The indebtedness has nothing to do with the hard work or the laziness of the citizens of a country; otherwise the Japanese would not be so indebted!

Secondly, contrary to arguments implying that Greeks are lazy and should work more, the most recent statistics of OECD in 2008 (i.e. before the crisis), suggest that the Greeks already worked more hours than any other country of the EU-15; each Greek worker worked almost 2100 hours each year compared to 1400 hours in Germany and the Netherlands, the two countries with the least working hours. Does this mean that Germans or the Dutch are lazy? Of course not. The more developed and civilized a country is, the more free hours it provides to its citizens. Long working hours and cheap labor indicate underdevelopment and dependency, not economic competitiveness.

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