Is there a Great Resignation in Greece?

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By Virginia Kibouropoulou

Is there also a “Great Resignation” in Greece? Or is the term abusively attributed to endogenous problems of the Greek labor market that existed even before the multiple crisis of the last three years (pandemic, inflation, Russian invasion of Ukraine)?

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The phenomenon of mass resignations of employees from their jobs has been called the “Big Quit”. In the US alone, more than 12 million workers quit their jobs between August and November 2021, and the number continues to rise. It got its name from the large number of people who quit their jobs, although they were not fired or their jobs were threatened, which amounts to tens of millions of people in different countries of the world.

This phenomenon began to take on large proportions in recent years, especially from 2020 onwards. During these years, humanity experienced many kinds of crises at the same time, having to deal with a pandemic, then the disruption in the global supply chain, the energy crisis, the rise of inflation and, for the past four months, the war in Ukraine. All of this together was to change the labor landscape once and for all, both from the side of the employees and from the side of the employers.

What is the trend in Greece?

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So far in Greece, but also in Europe, the phenomenon has not reached as large an extent as in the USA. However, only for the first quarter of 2022, the number of vacant jobs shows an increase of 148.4% compared to the first quarter of 2021 (to 16,603 from 6,685 respectively), as shown by ELSTAT data.

Also, according to the Employment Outlook Survey of the Manpower Group, a staffing company, 60% of employers face relative difficulty in filling jobs because of this emerging trend. 18% of employers reported in the survey that they face great difficulty in staffing their business. In Attica, the survey shows a much greater difficulty, according to 61% of employers. In general, the problem seems to be greater in small and medium-sized enterprises.

Which areas are experiencing difficulty?

Difficulty in filling positions is greatest in primary sector industries, with 30% of employers reporting that they are having great difficulty filling positions.

Regarding the industrial sector, Christos Ioannou, Director of the Employment and Labor Market Sector of the BSE, states: “We do not have the impression that workers especially in the industrial sector are leaving their jobs. The departures are mainly linked to retirements and mobility in the profession” . BSE member companies employ 228,000 workers, which make up 13% of private sector employees. “Labor market mobility increases as unemployment decreases and new jobs are created. And this mobility and flexibility is positive when new jobs are created, and when there is sufficient supply. But in many industries, occupations and specialties it does not exist the supply, despite the fact that the unemployment index shows almost 600,000 unemployed”, Mr. Ioannou tells us.

In crops, there is also a shortage of more than 50,000 laborers. According to reports from the cooperative associations, 50,000-60,000 seasonal workers are needed to cover the Greek production from Evros to Crete, especially for the harvesting and packaging of the products. The paradox is that for decades these jobs have been covered in the overwhelming majority by foreign workers, either with a work permit in Greece, or based on interstate agreements, or (unfortunately) with black labor. The effects of this shortage are already beginning to be felt in the pockets of producers, as without workers production goes back. Farmers associations across Greece are calling on the government for more flexible immigration policies, as well as agreements with third countries for the arrival of workers, while at the same time they are talking about wrong government handling. Obviously here, in the agricultural sector, it is not clear whether one can attribute the phenomenon to “great resignation” or to barriers to migration flows raised during the pandemic.

And in tourism, so far, figures for 2022 show 50,000 job shortages, and it is no coincidence that both the prime minister and the leader of the official opposition emphasized the issue at the recent SETE general assembly. Specifically for the hotel sector, last year’s SETE report on labor shortages for the summer season of 2021, speaks of more than 53,000 positions left unfilled, which constitutes 1/5 of the total positions in hotels. The biggest shortages, according to the report, are in waitresses, waiters, Waiter Assistants and Receptionists. The picture has probably worsened this year, when tourism is in full swing. The food industry is in a similar situation, as described by Giorgos Hotzoglou, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Food and Tourism Workers (POEET). “The figures we have collected so far speak of 5,000 resignations mainly from the catering industry. So surely the stake is the quality of the product as this year we are not able to provide quality services. I will give you an example. In a restaurant 5′ star hotel meals 220 customers there were only 4 waiters!”.

What drives young people to leave their jobs?

The narrative that dominates as the main reason behind so many unfilled jobs concerns, above all, young people, the so-called millennials, who are leaving low-wage jobs to look for work with career and development prospects, less precariousness. And indeed, there are those reasons too. Related research in Greece shows that young people prefer a job that will develop them over a job that they feel is a “dead end”.

But are the criteria really only personal or are there also salary incentives? “It’s a combination of both. In different mixes. Depending on the age group, the profession and the industry, the priorities of each employee and depending on the phase of the life cycle they are in,” says Christos Ioannou

However, there is also the other side, namely the dissatisfaction of the workers with the many years of job insecurity, which culminated with the suspensions and the pandemic. “Many colleagues couldn’t bear to live for 2 years now with 500 euros from contract suspensions or with the unemployment benefit of only 400 euros and only for three months,” says Mr. Hotzoglou. “The circumvention of classic contracts and labor legislation, but also the abandonment of seasonal workers in the dead months are equally important reasons why workers leave the food industry. The unemployment benefit has a temporal validity with a memorandum law of only three months. You understand so how can we not survive the winter months”.

What changes will bring workers back?

Of course, the question of “what needs to change” to fill jobs in industries currently suffering from shortages is not a one-sided one. Many steps need to be taken, both institutionally and in terms of incentives from employers, in order for “mobility” in the labor market to yield positive results.

For Mr. Ioannou (SEV), the efforts must be bilateral. “Our universities produce in several faculties young people with knowledge and skills, but most of them do not have practical experience,” he tells us, referring to the industry sector. “That is why we propose to look into the issue of student internships… Also, the technical professional education that developed economies with a strong production base and industry have been pursuing for years in our country was/has been degraded for years. The study programs must be reviewed and the offered knowledge and specialties. There are shortages in the market, and in the supply. There is not a sufficient supply in certain specialties that are requested by organized and modern companies, especially in Industry, such as those represented by BSE. Even in specialties where the supply is adequate, the knowledge and skills of human resources are not what businesses are asking for. So there is a gap,” he continues. In this context, Mr. Christos Ioannou talks about an action of the BSE, the pilot initiative to strengthen the practical skills in the specialties (for the time being) Electrician Automation Engineer, IT Application Technician. The initiative is called Skills4Jobs.

Employees ask for the … self-evident

In addition to enhancing the practical capacity of (future) workers, it is perhaps more important to make changes in working relationships and conditions. Food and tourism have long been affected by bad conditions that have, unfortunately, become an institution, such as undeclared work. “What we are asking for is the faithful observance of classic employment contracts and labor legislation, but also the staffing of the control mechanisms to strengthen their observance,” Mr. Hotzoglou tells us. “It is necessary to increase the unemployment subsidy proportionately. We mean as many stamps as we collect in the summer as many days as we subsidize in the winter”. Finally, it refers to the necessary reinstatement of the one-off award after the end of 20 years for the employee.

Finally, is there a Great Resignation in Greece? Even after all this, there is no clear answer. Certainly, the dimension of the phenomenon in the first place was not as large as it was in the US. But, it seems that the state, as well as labor regimes, is the “invisible hand” that pushes workers away from certain professions. With no money, no badges, no supplies for what really awaits them out there, one wonders how they lasted so long? It is one thing to work without being paid for what you really offer, and another to work in a condition where your work is appreciated, in which you have opportunities to learn and develop. Rather, what exists at this moment is not a “great resignation” but the great indignation.

Source: Capital

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