Greek Workers Keep Working Without Pay

The stereotype of the lazy Greek worker, putting in long hours but not producing much, and not declaring everything to the taxman, has dogged the country’s efforts to get international sympathy.

Andreas Solaro | AFP | Getty Images

And this cliché has permeated public opinion elsewhere. Greece is perceived as the least hard-working country in Europe by the British, the Germans, the Spanish, Poles and Czechs, according to a recent survey by Pew. Greeks who were surveyed pointed the finger at Italy as the laziest country.

Yet the picture is far from clear-cut. Greeks have less vacation time, and their retirement age is rising from the current average of 61 under the terms of the bailout.

The average Greek worker puts in 2,017 hours per year, more than any other European country. This is partly because there are more self-employed people, who tend to work longer hours, and fewer part-time employees to drag down the average.

There is also a problem with low productivity, particularly in the public sector, which employs around one-fifth of the population. Asked about the public sector, workers in the private sector mutter darkly about inefficiencies.

As the economic crisis deepens and the second Greek election in two months looms on Sunday, CNBC met plenty of Greeks who are belying the stereotype of laziness working without being paid.

Staff at the Henry Dunant Hospital in Athens are still working despite being owed five months pay. The hospital’s new management team, parachuted in in February, has brought in a 15 percent pay cut – agreed with unions – but cannot even pay this until a tranche of financing comes through.

The hospital is in this predicament because it is run by a charitable foundation which used to get around 5 million euros ($6.3 million) annually. These funds have dried up following the euro zone crisis. The private medical procedures which helped boost revenues have also shrunk dramatically.

“Some people are working because they hope their pay will come through. There’s also a problem with finding another job elsewhere. And there’s also a sentimental thing where they’re attached to their jobs,” Constantinos Mavrantonis, head of General & Colo-rectal Surgery at the hospital, told CNBC.

One of Greece’s best-known newspapers, Eleftherotypia (or “freedom of the press”), probably the closest Greek equivalent to The Guardian, all but closed down in December after the family business which backed it ran out of cash. Its staff haven’t been paid since August, yet around 600 of them (down from 850 last August) are planning two special editions of the newspaper around the election this weekend.

“We keep on working because we work in a business that has always been very liberal, we like the environment of the newspaper, and it is a newspaper that we truly believe in,” Katia Antoniadi, one of the journalists at Eleftherotypia, told CNBC.

“Of course, we also know that if we go out and look for another job we will get nothing, because the media in Greece is in crisis.”

Written by Catherine Boyle, CNBC. Twitter: @catboyle01