Media employees react to austerity measures

Journalists’ unions called two back-to-back 48-hour strikes — that ended on Monday (April 11th) at 6am — leaving the Greek public in a national news blackout.

The Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA) posted a memo on its web site calling on employers to sign collective labour agreements — which reportedly haven’t been updated since 2009 — stop wage cuts and layoffs, and offer security for employees’ rights.

The strike comes at a time in which Greeks not only face uncertainty as to what the next months hold, but also uncertainty in everyday life.

With the upsurge in strikes over the last year, Greeks rely almost solely on the news to be informed of stoppages in transport and other public services, and closures in city centres.

News from local and national media came to a complete halt on Thursday. Newspapers, web sites, broadcast media and agencies were all affected.

“Four days of a news blackout! It is inconceivable, especially in a country with constant strikes: Will the mass transportation be on strike; will the taxis be on strike; will the doctors and hospitals be on strike?” one Greek businesswoman told SETimes.

“They [journalists/media staff] are causing a major part of the population to be completely isolated. Since they exist to inform the public, it is irresponsible and negligent on their part,” she added.

On Friday, journalists and media staff took to the streets in central Athens, calling attention to the massive difficulties they are facing under the government’s austerity measures.

“As for the strike, it is one of the few tools employees have to temporarily stop the production process and to ask their employers to hear their requests to stop layoffs and to sign contracts,” a journalist from Greek daily Kathimerini told SETimes.

Last May, as part of the agreement to receive the 110 billion-euro EU-IMF bailout loan package over three years, Greece’s socialist government introduced austerity measures — including strict labour reforms — as a means to cut costs and boost competitiveness.

Wages and pensions have been cut. Most sectors, especially the media sector, have seen massive layoffs. Individual agreements, instead of collective ones, essentially allow enterprises more negotiating power over their employees.

“Employees want to sign a collective agreement with employers even without a raise, while employers want to sign an agreement with a 15% reduction — something employees don’t agree with. Because of the new measures employers would rather sign individual agreements with employees so they can achieve a reduction in salaries,” the Kathimerini journalist explained.

“Right now, the media, which is at the forefront of all the attention, is suffering from this development. Many employers, publishers, are cutting down the staff; they are demanding and pressing for wage cuts — that’s what the strike is about,” Thanassis Adamopoulos, editor-in-chief of Greek economic newspaper Naftemporiki, told SETimes.

This comes as unemployment continues to rise — reaching 14.2% in the last quarter of 2010, up from 10.3% in the same quarter of 2009, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority.

“The state of the press is already very difficult for everyone — many people are left without work, and some newspapers, TV channels, etc will probably close,” the journalist noted.

“Due to this economic crisis here in Greece, all journalists are being threatened with this situation,” Chris Trikoukis, Athens-based deputy secretary-general of the International Association of European Journalists, told SETimes. “There are not so many jobs from now on. A lot of newspapers are being closed down. There’s a big problem at the TV stations … It’s more of a kind of solidarity to all these people.”

But with many Greeks left in the “dark” for four days, he disagreed that the strike was the correct action.

“A journalist has to serve the public and get the news every day. That’s my opinion,” Trikoukis said.


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