Stronger labour at the core of equitable growth,’ Labour Minister Efi Achtsioglou

Increasing the minimum wage and improving the available income of the workforce continue to be a government pledge and goal, Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity Minister Efi Achtsioglou said in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Sunday.
“Stronger labour lies at the core of equitable growth,” Achtsioglou said and noted that Portugal’s experience in this area was very useful, since the priorities in labour policy were the same. The preparatory work for this process will begin soon, she added, at which time the steps and time schedule will be decided.
“The aim for the government is, therefore, to create a new production model with emphasis on the quality of the goods produced and support for innovation that helps to increase the productivity of labour, improving the country’s ranking in the value production chain. It is at exactly this point that we find the social and political line that separates us from main opposition New Democracy, which considers that growth must be supported by the crushing of labour,” Achtsioglou said.
The minister predicted that the institutions representing Greece’s creditors and Europe’s political leadership will adopt a constructive attitude during the fourth and last review of the Greek programme, while the discussion on post-programme surveillance and debt relief will be promptly concluded without particular problems.
The issues concerning the labour ministry during the fourth review were mainly technical matters concerning the mechanism for measuring representativeness in the extension of collective agreements and arbitration, she said.
She said that a round of meetings with the social partners in Greece was recently concluded to discuss issues related to collective agreements and arbitration, as well as fines for undeclared labour, which showed a satisfactory convergence of views, as well as some different approaches.
“We believe that through synthesis of opinions and a sincere desire for consensus we can have satisfactory results. In the framework of the talks, the social partners also expressed their views on increasing the minimum wage in principle with positive approaches,” she added. She also noted the new possibilities opened up by the use of IT and automation on issues relating to collective bargaining.
On the major issue of unemployment, Achtsioglou said that fighting unemployment was a constant government goal: “The rate of unemployment has dropped by about six points since 2014 and at least 350,000 additional jobs have been created during our governance. Of course, as I have said before, no one is complacent and we are aware of the size of the problem and that much work remains to be done.”
Fighting unemployment was at the core of the government’s policy, which targeted the long-term unemployed and young people, Achtsioglou said. Further specific initiatives will soon be announced, she added, which particularly target youth unemployment.
“As we are aware, of course, both unemployment and the ‘brain drain’ are not the sole concern of one ministry. Coordination and cross-ministerial cooperation is required if we are to be effective. The education ministry has already taken a series of measures for young graduates,” she said.
On pension fund reforms and their sustainability, Achtsioglou said that the reforms, combined with an increase in employment and a drop in undeclared labour, were tending to eradicate cash deficits in social insurance and that the EFKA unified social insurance fund had ended the year with a 777 million euro surplus, as opposed to a forecast cash deficit of 765 million euros. She predicted that this result will be repeated in 2018, while an overall improvement of the economy and growth rate will also benefit the social insurance system, “allowing us to make corrective changes”.

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