In August 2018 Greece officially ended its reliance on bailouts, hailing a new era of financial independence according to the PM Alexis Tsipras, but the future is far from rosy for the country’s young people. Giorgos S. is 23 but he already feels as if his life is over. “I have no hope – how can I imagine that things will get better?”
Giorgos is just one of the young people who managed to find work in the country’s tourist industry after several years of unemployment. He has a degree in hospitality and a master in business studies. He earns 600 euros a month. He tells me that most of his friends have moved overseas.
According to data released by the Hellenic Statistical Authority, better known as ELSTAT, the overall rate of unemployment in September 2018 was 18.6 percent, but with unemployment for 18-24 year olds at 36.6 percent, Greek youth has been hardest hit by the crisis. Part time employees, many of whom work in the hotel industry, are particularly affected. “Here in Greece we all help each other – everyone lends and everyone borrows, but now it’s been 10 years of taxes on everything and wages have been reduced by half so there is no money to lend and none to borrow so we are struggling – some of us are literally starving – but we don’t show it – we are too proud,” says hotel employee Nikos Pirpinakis.
Recent figures released by Greece’s Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that nearly a third of the population are living on or below the poverty line. Research by Amsterdam’s Transnational Institute has also revealed that the country’s children have been amongst the worst affected by the crisis, with around 14 percent showing signs of malnutrition due to poor diet. Greece’s Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development also noted that one in five workers in the private sector only earn between 200 to 500 euros per month, which is almost five times as many as at the start of the crisis in 2010. With wages down by 28 percent since 2010 and pensions cut more than a dozen times since 2009, in-work poverty is a fact of life in modern Greece.
Hotel workers have been particularly affected by the downward spiral of poor wages and precarious conditions. With little official control on working conditions, many workers in the tourist industry work ten or 14 hour shifts. Despite the fact that the country’s tourism industry is currently booming, job security is also rare. “The good hotels always look after their employees, but there are some hotels that don’t pay their staff for months on end,” says Giorgos. “They tell their staff that they will be paid later in the season, once they’ve made some money. Of course the staff should just leave, but even the promise of money is better than no money at all.”
One such hotel was the Ledra, formerly the Ledra Marriott, a five star property in Athens that was once seen as the epitome of luxury. Badly affected by the economic crisis, the hotel closed abruptly in May 2016 after workers were obliged to stage a strike in order to receive their wages, which had not been paid for several months. “People think that if we have jobs we must be OK, no one knows the truth –that many of us are just surviving,” says Manos K. another hotel employee on the popular island of Santorini.
Greece has the highest rate of unemployment in the European Union, according to figures recently released by the European Commission’s statistics service Eurostat. Unemployment currently hovers at around 20 percent and in many cases an entire family will be forced to survive on “starvation wages”. Since the unemployed only receive a few months unemployment benefit and there is very little aid for rents, heating or even basics such as food, conditions are extremely difficult for the Greece’s “new poor.” In a country which was happy and well fed a decade ago it is now a common sight to see adults searching in the rubbish bins for food, whilst those who are slightly better off will leave bags of clothes and food close to the bins in a bid to help their less fortunate fellows. ‘The importance of the examination of the period 2008–2016 in Greece is significant not only for the extreme reduction of the GDP (25%), which is equivalent to a war period, but for the uncertain social and economic prospects,’ states Symeon Mavridis Department of Social Administration and Political Science, Democritus University of Thrace in his detailed report about the economic crisis.
“We were not a rich country but we had enough to be happy. Now we have been brought to our knees by Europe’s brutal policies, says Nikos. “My big fear is that Tsipras will be re-elected. Things are so bad now that this could lead our country into a civil war.”