This is our weekly round-up from Greece.
The numbers as to the coronavirus situation in Greece are slowly improving, most probably thanks to the vaccinations. Yet, lifting all restrictions for tourism is very risky as the country is far from achieving herd immunity.
The government is about to table the new Labour Bill which has been widely attacked for dismantling working and unionising rights. Protests against the bill took place this week.
The Parliament voted on a new contract for the former Athens airport Hellinikon area and excluded citizens from their right to file a lawsuit against it, thus making a private contract law of the state.
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Coronavirus: Vaccination seems to work also in Greece.
We have been very strict in our criticism regarding the coronavirus situation in Greece. Indeed, the government measures were incoherent all along. They still are, considering they opened up the country two weeks ago, at maybe the worst peak of coronavirus since December - with an average of 100 deaths, 800+ intubated and 3,000+ cases daily. The population was clearly exposed. More so, given the six-month lockdown along with the asphyxiating police presence and the violence against people just trying to breathe some air.
However, the situation now seems to be improving, as the number of deaths, the intubated and daily cases are being gradually reduced.
The only factor that could have improved the situation is the vaccination. Although it started slow, it gained pace lately. Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias stated on Wednesday that 17.62% of Greece’s population is now fully vaccinated. He emphasised though people should be careful and keep the health protocols (masks, distances etc). “All the prefectures of the country are stable or going down as to the number of cases. This however does not mean we are through with the pandemic,” he said.
According to the National Vaccination Committee president Maria Theodoridou in a total of 905,915 vaccinations 1st and 2nd dosage, five people had thrombosis after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca - four women and a man. One of these patients has recovered, three are still in hospital and a woman died. She emphasised the age categories for the vaccines will not change, she added though the danger for thrombosis (TTS syndrome) is greater for women under 50. She said that “women in the age group of 30-49 years can choose other vaccines that are available, such as those with mRNA technology.“
Similarly, Medicine Professor Athena Linou stated in an interview that “AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been proved that they create increased risk for women under 50, and more rarely to men.” She said that after thousands of women under 50 had been vaccinated with AstraZeneca - and some of them were not given another choice as an age group by the vaccination platform.
Very importantly, it appears that significant progress has been made as to the requests for the acquisition of temporary AMKA (social security number). We analysed in a previous newsletter that thousands of foreigners with permanent resident status (including pensioners) and expat Greeks who had returned to the country remained “invisible” for the online system where people can book an appointment for vaccination as AMKA is a prerequisite. The online platform the government had opened some two months ago to provide these people with temporary AMKA was not yielding results. As AthensLive has verified, people were waiting forever with no update as to the progress of their application - and no AMKA. Similarly, people with no AMKA and no tax registration number were serviced at Citizens' Office (KEP) for AMKA yet they were also waiting for ages. They were desperate, having been caught in the claws of Greek bureaucracy.
On Thursday, President of the National Public Health Organization Panagiotis Arkoumaneas stated in an interview with the state broadcaster ERT that all requests for temporary AMKA have been cleared for Covid19 vaccination. AthensLive can verify that indeed some temporary AMKA applicants have started receiving it at least since 12 May.
With a joint ministerial decision published in the Official Gazette on Thursday, temporary AMKA can be obtained also by asylum seekers including unaccompanied minors.
If you need a temporary AMKA and you have a tax registration number, you can apply (application in Greek) at emvolio.gov.gr. If you don’t have a tax registration number, you should visit a KEP office for the application. When your AMKA is activated, you can book your vaccination appointment at any pharmacy.
However, we should note that the percentage of the vaccinated population does not justify opening up to tourism lifting almost all restrictions. As herd immunity is considered achieved when 80% of the population is vaccinated, it becomes obvious that Greece is far from that. A US-based virology expert Dr George Pavlakis in an interview on Friday decried lapses in health safety protocols for travel to the Greek islands, warning that “the virus will come back to bite us if we disregard it”: “Even though we have the standards, the information, we are opening up without abiding by any standards and this is evident all around you,” he added.
Greeks as contemporary slaves.
Two weeks ago, the government gave to public consultation a new bill aimed to bring cataclysmic changes to labour rights and unionisation. It has been widely characterised as an “anti-labour bill” for this reason. It is scheduled to be tabled in the Parliament the following week - and to be voted on 10 June.
The bill had been largely prepared by the previous ND Labour Minister Giannis Vroutsis and now is promoted by Minister Kostis Hatzidakis. Hatzidakis’s record includes also the so called “anti-environmental bill” which became law of the state during his tenure as Minister of Environment. He is rightly considered by many as a “special missions” politician.
Lawyer Dionysis Temponeras, who specialised in Labour law, summarised and explained the pros and cons of the bill.
The positive changes include:
- A new ERGANI labour registry system that reduces bureaucracy. Plus the Labour Inspectorate gains access to communication data between the company and the tele-employee so that they can cross-check it with the working schedule.
- A Digital Work Card will be issued, to monitor employees working hours in real time, so that “black market” labour and unpaid over-hours are avoided. However, Temponeras emphasises this is a discrepancy as the 10-hour working day (see below) will be in effect immediately, while the Digital Labour Card will be initially tested in big companies.
- EU Direction 2019/1158 for a personal-professional life balance is incorporated, including 4 months parental leave for both parents and a flexible form of labour for parents and guardians.
- ILO Convention 190 is ratified. This included widening the field of prohibited behaviour, adding violence in workplaces - like mobbing.
- Employees that tele-work will now have the right to fully disconnect from work outside office hours.
- The employees under a project contract would have similar unionisation rights with the open-contract employees.
- ILO Convention No. 187 on occupational safety and health is ratified.
However, the cons are a cause of grave concern. The most important of them are:
- The bill introduces “flexibility” to the eight-hour workday by institutionalising a 10-hour workday with NO extra payment. The extra hours will be added up and “exchanged” with days-off or days of leave within six months. Many employers were already not paying over hours in the Greek slavery machine. Now, this would become institutionalised - and we believe they will also not give the days-off in most cases. It is provided that this clause would be applied only after the employee consents, which a) undermines collective agreements and b) given the Greek labour market “jungle,” it is most expected that an employer could coerce the employee in “consenting.”
- It increases legal overtime to 150 hours a year, currently set at 96 hours in manufacturing and 120 hours in all other industries. According to Temponeras, combined with other clauses this means employers could take advantage of plenty of cheap over-hours.
- The government allows more companies to operate on Sundays.
- The bill provides for the alternative of increased compensation instead of re-hiring in the cases that the employee’s lay-off is deemed illegal or excessive. According to Temponeras, this way all protection from laying-off for the employee is abolished. With another clause, the employer can stop the process of a lay-off being declared invalid. Thus, lay-offs are actually fully deregulated.
- Unionising is under attack: The bill circumvents the right to unionising by setting it as a prerequisite to be registered in the Unions Archives. It allows electronic voting in General Assemblies, which is said to undermine live assemblies. It violates the right to strike, according to Temponeras, by stipulating that 33% of employees will work as “security personnel,” during strikes. The bill “criminalises” strikes as it prohibits squatting entrances and spaces and exercising “psychological and physical violence”. Plus, the reasons to strike should be very specifically laid out in the strike warning, otherwise the strike would be deemed illegal. Finally, the unions’ Board of Directors will not be protected henceforth from lay-offs while the Committee for Protecting Unionists that is responsible to conclude if a unionist’s lay-off is legal is abolished.
- The bill is also considered as undermining the Hellenic Labour Inspectorate, which has been practically weakened a long time ago.
Greece's main civil servants union ADEDY staged a 24-hour strike against the bill earlier this month and on Wednesday they protested at down-town Athens. The Communist Party protested on Thursday at Syntagma square, with its leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas stating in his speech: “We will not accept to be contemporary slaves in the 21st century.”
The opposition parties have appeared united against the bill.
At the same time the government is attacking labour rights, employers are fiercely opposing raising the minimum wage in 2021. The minimum wage is currently at 558 euros net.
Hellinikon case: The government makes a private contract law of the state.
The issue on how the former Athens airport, Hellinikon, huge area would be utilised has sparked a lot of controversy over the decades. It was promised at first that the area would become a park - one of the largest in Europe. However, it turns out that Hellinikon would become a secluded “gated” settlement with residencies, shops, offices, casinos and sky-scrappers-hubris to the Acropolis, as they would be taller than the city’s ancient landmark (more later).
One of the contracts concerning Hellinikon transformation (read: building up) of the area, was voted on Thursday in Parliament “fast-track,” without previously being discussed - a decision attempted to be justified by the fact that ND, SYRIZA and KINAL parties were supporting it.
What is most outrageous, however, is that no citizen can file a lawsuit against this new contract between Hellinikon SA and the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund with the Council of State - Greece’s top administrative court. This is what DiEM25 MP Kriton Arsenis revealed in his speech in Parliament. “The contract is the first private document that will become law of the State. Private contracts cannot be annulled by the Council of State. But to be sure, they excluded [the contract] from Civil code articles (...) providing for contract annulment due to “excessive commitment of a person’s freedom” or “disproportionate benefits as to price” for the buyer. Do these articles remind you of something? Don’t they perfectly describe the Hellinikon contract?” the MP later wrote on his Facebook page.
“Why doesn't the government bring to Parliament the rest of the area’s concession contracts?” wrote the MP. “Because there are three pending lawsuits with the Council of State, in which lawsuits I participate”.
The Hellinikon project has not sparked controversy for nothing. Polytechnic School Professor and head of Piraeus municipality council opposition party Nikos Belavilas published some time ago an extensive analysis on what is going to happen there.
“For those who do not wish to read the whole text on Hellinikon developments, things are simple,” he wrote. “What is on the official map of the plan pink goes to the private investors fenced for 99 years. What is blue goes to the private investors forever and what is orange stays public and shared…” Most of the map is pink, a large part blue and you can hardly discern the orange parts.
In his analysis, the professor emphasised that with the new law, in Hellinikon, “the new surface owner [that is, the private investor, as opposed to the state, which is the land owner] can do everything as if he/she were the land owner. He/she can even put it into mortgage. Not one building only, for example a Mall, but the whole land (...) He can even put in mortgage all the thousands decares of land, including the 2,000 decares park. Without the approval of the State. If he/she goes bankrupt, the whole land will be taken by the creditors, including the roads and the squares!”
Belavilas mentions that “decares of state-owned coast have vanished from the distribution diagram, the long pedestrian street connecting the neighbourhoods east with the beach vanished, it does not go through the park. The park’s exit to the sea vanished. The areas of social return are missing (...) The free and non-built swimming coast -1 km- decreased to 250 metres. Thus, for 3 km in total, we have these remnants. The Marina is turned into a fully private Casino marina. Aghios Kosmas neighbourhood is turned to a gated community.”
Moreover, according to Belavilas, the area is going to be fenced far beyond what the law provides for. Plus, “the rest of the city, Upper Hellinikon, Argyroupolis, Alimos and Glyfada neighbourhoods are secluded from the sea, the park and the whole area. They will only have access to six (yes, six!) Malls of Vouliagmenis avenue.”
And this monstrous thing has been promoted by all governments.
Update: “University Police” plans are reported to be indefinitely suspended. According to “NEA” newspaper, Mitsotakis’ government plans on creating a special “University Police” are suspended anew with no specific due date. Allegedly, the government aims at avoiding tension. However, Civil Protection Under Secretary Lefteris Economou, replying to the reportage in Parliament, denied any change in governmental plans. It is worth reminding that in mid-April Education Under Secretary Angelos Syrigos had announced a delay and stated that the University Police will be assigned to the Universities at the end of September 2021.” Keep in mind that Universities have not resumed operation requiring the physical presence of students at all during the six-month lockdown.
Update: “Embros” self-managing art space back to the hands of its squatters: In our previous newsletter, we extensively analysed the case of “Embros” previously abandoned theatre, which has been squatted by artists and has flourished during the crisis-decade creating cultural events that people could attend for free. We wrote that the police came and built all of its entrances. Well, this week something wonderful happened. A bit later, artists and citizens flooded the space and opened the entrances while bands were playing music. The police went back to rebuild the entrances. However, they were not able to proceed as “Embros” is a listed building and a lawsuit was timely filed against those responsible for the building of its entrances. The action stopped. Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis took a positive initiative, proposing that “Embros” as a property be transferred to Athens municipality.
Convicted Golden Dawn neo-nazi Christos Pappas, who has escaped arrest and the Greek police has lost track of him for eight months now, sends letter to controversial newspaper Makeleio - And the police still cannot find him (In Greek).
Bill on diaspora Greeks’ vote rejected in Parliament.
Greece OKs Dior Photo Shoot at Acropolis Ahead of Croisière 2022 Athens Show: According to the Culture Ministry, Dior’s request is being granted as part of the ongoing 200-year bicentennial celebrations since the Greek War of Independence. The Ministry added that it was considering granting permission in view of the “reach and visibility” of the event in very important tourist markets for Greece, in Europe, the US and Asia. We really didn’t know that one of the greatest monuments of all times, the Acropolis, needs Dior’s (or any company’s) advertising to attract visitors from across the world!
Thirty-seven new university faculties officially abolished.
PM calls on German tourists “Come to Greece, it’s a different country now!”
Greece launches tender for closed migrant holding centers on islands.
English dictionary of ancient Greek ‘spares no blushes’ with fresh look at crudity: Words Victorian-era Greek lexicon translated as ‘to wench’ or ‘do one’s need’ have been given much earthier new readings at Cambridge for modern students of classics.
The Mystery Structure on Top of Athens’ Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Documento newspaper travelled to the Gerania Mountains to document what the wildfire destroyed. The pictures and videos you can see here (the text is in Greek) are highly depressing. You can also see here the “invisible” forest fire victims: Wildlife, abandoned pets and farming animals (Warning: harsh images). The official explanation given till now on the cause of the fire was that a 90-year-old man was burning olive tree branches. However, volunteer firefighter Dimitris Desylas made a very serious allegation, according to which no old man set the fire. They found remnants of this alleged fire, but they were old as the ashes were not white. The wildfire, he said, started at the time of firefighters shift change.
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