The condition of Greek workers

On Monday former ACTU president Sharan Burrow, now general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), came to Athens to present the findings of a European survey of workers’ conditions at a press conference.

The situation in Greece, she said, was now “dire”, with 91 per cent of Greek workers on reduced incomes. Warning of imminent social unrest, she said she had met “frightened people, people afraid to have children because they did not know if they could secure their future”.

The first woman to hold her present position (she was the first female ACTU leader as well), Burrow hails from Warren in western NSW and comes from a fighting labour family. Her great-great-grandfather took part in the legendary shearers’ strike of 1891-2 and was one of the first organisers of the Australian Workers’ Union. She herself began work as a country high school teacher and came up through the ranks of the Teachers’ Federation. The record shows that the higher she rose in the union bureaucracy, the more compliant she became.

Her report on Greece, which she introduced in the presence of coalition Labour Minister Yiannis Voutris, may be quite accurate, but is anyone listening? Indications are that whatever the government does, the EU overlords in Berlin, Paris and Brussels are preparing to cut Greece adrift.


In Areopoli the other day we picked up an English-language book on local cuisine. Only on reading it later did we realise that it’s by the owner of the taverna “Yesterday and Today” that we’d passed on the way down to the beach at Stoupa.

Voula Kyriakea was born locally but brought up in Athens. Moving back here in 1980, she developed a love of place that has turned her into an ambassador for the area and its simple, healthy diet which is based on the freshest produce, wild herbs and the world’s best olive oil.

In the past 10 years she has found a great location between the mountains and the sea, built her restaurant and published both the cookbook and an illustrated guide to the Mani. She is always making new discoveries – she talks constantly to other women about their traditional recipes. “They speak with such passion,” she says, “that you can smell the cinnamon and cloves used in cooking cockerel, and the oregano and thyme in lamb baked in the oven.”

We called in at the restaurant and could see her in the kitchen, instructing a couple of her staff with the authority that truly committed chefs possess.  But she came bustling out, wiping her hands on her apron, to greet us and sign her book, full of warmth and enthusiasm – a human dynamo. You can check out her story at


At the other end of the food chain, and far better resourced, is a Greek Australian from Sydney by the name of Napoleon Tsanis. A Reuters story circulating today in the Athens press says he came back to Greece some time ago with 11 million euros to invest in a prawn farming business, and quotes him as complaining of bureaucracy and over-regulation standing in the way of his intended success.

This couldn’t possibly be the same Sydney businessman by the name of Napoleon Tsanis whose Riverside Ridge housing development company in Townsville, Queensland collapsed two years ago with debts of $58m – could it? The administrators noted at the time that Mr Tsanis had failed to provide reports on the company, a subsidiary of Glen Alpine, despite numerous requests, and that his co-director Peter Bega was out of contact overseas.

Napoleon Tsanis’s company in Greece goes under the name of Albatross Investments.


It seems there is no part of the southern Peloponnese that’s not worth exploring.

From our village we can see buildings perched impossibly high up in the stark mountains behind us. They appear to be reached only by narrow zigzag roads, dirt tracks or stone donkey paths so precipitous we’ve hesitated to attempt them. Our friends came to the rescue with an offer to drive us.

We climbed 3,000 feet, taking in the ruins of an 18th century fort, to the tiny village of Ano Verga. Eagles soar in the thermals, and the mountains seem much greener than from down below. There are still olive trees and herbs, terraces on the very edge of the steepest cliffs, fruit trees, vegetable gardens and even a field of blue-painted beehives. The view, of Kalamata on one side and of our coastal villages on the other, is staggering.

An optimistic Cypriot has set up a café here within the past year, and we sat on his shady terrace drinking frappés and admiring it all. How the place survives is a mystery. There are five residents left in winter, 10 in summer, and usually a handful of German visitors. But there’s no sign of the Germans arriving this year.

One comment

  1. We are following your wonderful journey with envy and interest. We are also anxiously awaiting your return for the Haydn. Uki garden club next weekend, and a private viewing for you upon your, H &S

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