A nation out of work

Unemployment in Greece has reached a new record high in April of 22.5 per cent, up 0.5 from March. The jobless rate is now 6.3 per cent higher than one year ago and climbing.  Greece, in the fifth year of recession, has twice the jobless rate of the average in the 17 countries sharing the Euro zone.

Data just released showed that the jobless total reached 1,109,658 people, while those regarded as “economically inactive” (that does not include bankers!) reached 3,360,717.

One of the lines from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice says: “You take my life when you take the means whereby I live.” Nothing has changed. A life without work is a life without purpose, and the signs of this human despair are present in the provincial area of Greece where we are staying.

Many young school leavers have given up trying for work. Students graduates take jobs in the catering and tourist industry even though they have engineering, computer science or arts degrees. Some estimates have youth unemployment at 50 per cent.

Even though my Greek is very rusty, I get the impression that they are not keen on bankers’ salaries or multi-million-dollar bonuses. They see the banks and the oligarchies they represent as the main enemy.


Costas Bakouris, head of Transparency International Greece, is the nearest thing that Athens has to an anti-corruption commissioner or an ombudsman.

The former businessman does not hold a statutory office but heads a state-funded NGO that campaigns against corruption in public life and agitates to raise standards of accountability.

Recently he sampled some 12,000 citizens on how corruption had affected their daily lives.

* Just over 60 per cent of people said that in the previous 12 months they had paid a bribe to a public official.

* 25 per cent said they refused and 14 per cent claimed to be “unclear” – whatever that means.

* In dealing with the private sector, almost 55 per cent said they had paid a bribe, 21 per cent said they refused and 24 per cent were “unclear”.

Corruption was most rampant is the medical profession, including GPs, consultants, hospital staff at almost every level and pharmacists.

To obtain speedy treatment, 42 per cent of respondents say they were asked for a bribe in a public hospital (17 per cent in private hospitals). Some 13 per cent of people who went to doctors in the private sector say they too were asked for a bribe.

Other professions – lawyers, tax officials, vehicle inspectors, town planners, tradespeople, plumbers and engineers – also fared poorly.

In the public sector, the average bribe sought in 2011 was €1,399 euros (up from €1,313 in 2007). In the private sector, the figure for 2011 was €1,406 (down from €1,554 in 2007 – the private sector, even the corrupt private sector, is always more adept, it seems, at responding to market forces).

The organisation estimates that the cost of all this to the Greek economy is some €554 million a year.

However, the price that a country pays for endemic corruption can’t be measured in dollars and cents but in cultural poverty and social violence.


Our weekly English language newspaper, Athens News, was smaller this week due to a 24-hour strike by journalists and other workers. The paper explained: “The staff took this unfortunate decision because they have not been paid their salaries for almost two months. Nor have they received their statutory summer pay entitlement. In addition, freelance staff at the newspaper were last paid in April. The staff regrets any inconvenience to our loyal readers and would like to assure them that they remain dedicated to the newspaper’s objective of reporting on Greece in English, as they have done in the sixty years since the title was established in 1962.”


World acclaimed economists, pundits and academics have been combing over the Greek crisis searching for an answer to the question: why did it happen?

An incidental clue has appeared in the local press. In reports that in early 2010, then Prime Minister George Papandreou hired a worldwide team to advise on Greece’s crumbling economy and institutions. Among those who arrived in Athens to assist was Roger Wilkins. Remember him? He was the bow-tie-wearing bureaucrat who former Premier Bob Carr promoted to Cabinet director-general. Carr was so impressed by Wilkins he also made him head of the NSW Arts Department. After serving as Carr’s chief Cabinet bureaucrat, Wilkins escaped Sydney in 2008 as Labor went into freefall. He joined Team Rudd in Canberra as permanent head of the Attorney-General’s Department where he is best remembered for his handling of the asylum seeker issue, Aboriginal land title and Julian Assange. QED.

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