The Plight of Greece’s Unpaid Workers

With Members of Parliament not missing a paycheck or a perk, a million Greeks are going unpaid or paid weeks, months, or years later, forcing many to struggle to survive, including unpaid workers on ferry boats who say they have to make the ships their homes.

The BBC reported their plight and showed how dire their life is living on boats. They went on strike earlier this year to demand back wages but Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ordered them back to work under the threat of being arrested or fired but many said they are still waiting for a paycheck.

Some 20 are living on The Penelope, which should make a daily crossing from the port of Rafina, outside Athens, to the beautiful islands of Andros, Tinos and Mykonos. But since the summer, it has been stuck, the crew refusing to sail as they have not been paid for months on end.

The ship is named after the wife of the ancient Greek figure Odysseus who waited patiently for his return from the Trojan war. But the patience of these workers is fast running out, the BBC said.

The workers have occupied the boat, living on board for fear of losing their jobs altogether if they abandon ship. And so they stay on a deserted shell with no electricity or running water, the kitchens dark and closed up, passenger lounges with rows of vacant seats.

In one corridor, a sign proudly reads: “Your perfect holiday starts here.,” reflecting the irony and the agony of he desperate workers.

“The situation here is very difficult,” Antonis Giakoumatos, the first officer told the BBC “We stay in a ghost ship. I feel very sad and angry because I don’t have the money to go and see my wife and children.”

He said when the ship was sailing that the passengers smiled. “It was very good. I would see the passengers’ smiles and know I was doing my job well. Now it’s empty. I feel like I’m waiting to die here.” The crew – and the BBC – have tried to contact the company, Agoudimos Lines, but to no avail.

The employees of the Penelope are some of the one million private sector workers in Greece who go unpaid. The Labour Institute of the Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) found this week that one in every two companies was not paying its staff on time.

Much of the focus in Greece’s financial crisis has been on public sector cuts but this is the other side of the story – private companies crumbling from a drop in demand. And Platon Tinios, an economist at the University of Piraeus, told the BBC the two are linked.

“The public sector is exporting its problems to the private sector,” he says. “When the state is squeezed – as it has been frequently – the easiest thing is to postpone payment to suppliers. Hence a liquidity problem in the private sector.”

Across Athens at the Hellenic Shipyards, it is an even worse story. The 1,200 workers have not been paid since April 2012. The cranes are halted, vast floating docks lie rusting in the water – one of Greece’s key industries paralysed. “It’s been my job for 33 years,” says Kostas Hatzopoulos as he looks out at the old machinery.

“It was my life, my experience, my technical knowledge. Now I’ve had to survive by borrowing money from friends and asking for food from the Church.”