Report on the collapse of labor in the media industry in Greece

 By Matthaios Tsimitakis
Freelance Journalist
twitter: tsimitakis
Overview
The media sector in Greece is in a state of accelerated shrinkproofing due to the economic crisis and on the basis of the structural change that the industry is either way, undergoing on the global scale. This process has catastrophic consequences both to the employment and wellfare status of thousands of media professionals, as a violent restructuring is being carried out on their expense. This report focuses on employment relations and the total collapse of labor in the industry and points that the overall pressure to the labor force of the Media alters significantly the role of the media as a social institution in the country – an issue that needs to be analyzed further.

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The Greek Media consist a small industry, employing more or less 10,000 workers but with a disproportionately large political and corporate influence in the country. The Media industry expanded enormously in the period of the past 20 years; from 440 active media organizations in 1988 to 2,500 in 2008, when the decline started! The main driver of growth was the intertwining interest of Media companies and the government, which was opening the way to side activities like businesses with political parties and the public sector. The role of the media during the era of the presence of the IMF in the country is changing since their value decreases gradually along with the reduction of businesses coming from the government and the public sector[#].

 

In the place of the old system, a new one seems to be born today, with new players (and even perhaps multinational companies) capturing the scene, along with some of the so-called traditional publishers. The change will not be easy nor should it be taken for granted. It Includes reductions in real jobs, of a 30% -50% (already on the way), new forms of employment, a reduction of up to 50% of the earnings of workers of the old establishment, “rescued” in the new landscape and many padlocks. Last year’s closure of the paper “Eleftheros Typos” by Angelopoulos family, the padlock in the “Apogevmatini” newspaper, which left workers unpaid and the suspension of the daily Vima “by Stavros Psicharis (DOL Media group), show that the media might no longer used for unrelated business purposes[#]. At least not like they used to. Most of the publishers and Media owners in Greece are members of the capitalist elite, operating in sectors of the economy, like construction, maritime, financial services and so on.
According to a report by the Reporters without borders,  during the first half of 2011 more than a quarter of all the Greek journalists are considered to be “officially” unemployed but the number cannot be concrete, because of the loosely-defined profession.

Freelance journalists, or workers associated with small «sattelite» publishing companies are not registered in or represented by the unions due to the old statutes of these organizations that include only full time employees and therefore they are not counted in the statistics. If they were to be counted, then all the numbers presented here would expand. 5000 full time journalists are registered with the athens union of print journalists (ESYEA) the strongest among 11 independent unions for media professionals in the country, while many more can no longer afford to join[#].

Salaries are low and have recently been cut (flat in many cases) by an average of about 15%. Freelance journalists, are among the country’s poorest-paid professionals, earning an average of €500-€600 per month, out of which social security has to be paid (with an average cost of €230). Journalists with regular wages are being laid off in great numbers and many are owed several months’ salaries. Wage payment and solvability problems are plain nowadays. The media’s debts to staff are put to several million euros. Some media groups are planning to negotiate bankruptcy (known as the article 99 process) which would protect them from their creditors and halt payments. This process could also allow media owners to skip paying salary arrears and rehire journalists on new terms, outside collective labour agreements[#].

Public Media
The public sector is traditionaly one of the bigest agents in the Greek Media landscape with National Radio and Television employing 3050 full time workers of all kinds plus another 1000[#] contractors coming from the private sector but associated with the public workers’ unions in ERT. The declared decission of the Greek goverment to put a yet  undefined number of public workers in reserve is only a part of the decline of the whole media sector in the country. According to the union’s forecast, by the end of 2011, 400 full time employees will be put in reserve (practically fired – the Greek constitution protects public sector workers by forbiding their dismissal) while 50% of external contracts is expected not to be renewed exposing at least another 350 workers to unemployment in the first quarter of 2012[#].
Private sector
During 2011 the media organizations listed in the Athenian stockmarket, recorded negative results, consisted by widening losses, reduced circulation of newspapers and a continuing loss of revenues for the printing press and television[#]. The new fact, that occurs in contrast to previous estimations is that now, none of the media companies in the country hopes for a reversal of the economic situation and a fix of revenues. Their plans are reducing to restructuring and compression of operating costs so as to keep paying bank loans and remain in existence. That pressure is tranfered again in labor, through more cuts.
According to the social insurance organizations ETAP-MME and EDOEAP the number of the journalists, technicians and administrative employees that are found registered in the relevant catalogues had risen from 800 at the start of 2011 to 1200 in September. These catalogues do not include unemployed professionals who exceed the yearly limit or self employed workers (freelancers) who consist a steadily expanding fraction of the sector for the past 20 years. Both in Athens and in the periphery several media have stoped paying their employees for a few months now, while most of them have reduced salaries and continue to impose cuts under the threat of dismissal. According to the restructuring programs of the main media groups in the country (DOL, Eleftherotypia, Pigasos, Kathimerini) more than 500 employees, mainly journalists are expected to be fired until the end of the year. Adding the number of people that have already been layed off the total number of the unemployed in the private sector is expected to exceed the number of 1100. This number again, does not include professionals working on 3,6 months and yearly contracts or freelancers who have stoped working due to the continuing recession and the cuts in the operating costs, mainly in TV and Radio stations.
Case studies: The strongest Media groups and their policies towards labor#

-DOL media group (Lambrakis Jurnalist organization) has already layed off 324 employees during the first half of 2011. Among them 25 were fired in a period of only one week. The company is threatening workers to accept further cuts (flat) orelse it will fire even more. Next to the restructuring program, shareholders are being called to provide the company with the necessary liquidity for the refinancing of the company’s loan. For the first time in its history Mega channel presents loses before taxes of 10,1 milion euros for the first half of 2011, in contrast to loses of 2,5 million during the same period in 2010. The estimation that advertisement revenues will reduce further, widens the economic pressure to the channel and mobilizes further developments in the restructuring of operating costs and especially labor.
-«Pigasos» reduced its working force by 236 during the first six months of 2011 reachng a pick of 17 lay offs during one week only. Pigasos is planning to dismiss another 120 in the near future, while the company has already forced its employees to dump the union’s agreement and sign personal agreemements accepting salary reductions and the abolishment of rights. A tight program of 30% cuts in the operting costs of the company escorted by supplementary lay offs and a possible imposing of a four working days week, is in the agenda. In Ethnos newspaper a 15% reduction in salaries has been imposed, already.

Alafouzos group has fired 88 workers so far (out of which 59 in SKAI TV station). The company has also forced its employees to agree on reductions of 10% of their salaries. At the same time many self employed in supplements for the newspaper kathimerini, have lost their jobs but cannot be counted due to their professional status.

-Eleftherotypia hasn’t payed its employees since last summer, while a new loan from a Greek bank is being agreed under the condition of the dismissal of 400 workers (among 900 in total). The company presents loses of 14,6 milion euros during the first half of 2011.
-Reductions in the salaries of all employees was the demand of the publisher of IMAKO publishing house (magazines), after he first fired the unions representatives, five months ago. Recently IMAKO anounced the dismissal of another 12 workers taking advantage of the benefit of reduced compensation due to an early warning, given by a new Greek law. During the summer all employees were two months back in their salaries.
-Attikes ekdoseis publishing house, (magazines) has fired 66 workers so far, while freelancers have been stoped (freelancers are a considerable if not the major labor force behind magazines)
-In Alpha TV station, the managers of the RTL Group are showing their discontent in every possible chance. The channell presented 16 milion euro loses before taxes in contrast to 10 million during the first half of 2010. Further reductions in the program of the station are expected.
References
Reporters without borders 2011, Is the crisis in Greece a chance for its media? Investigation report accessed at http://en.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/greece_2011_eng.pdf (12/10/2011)
Papachristoudi, M. 2011 Καμία ελπίδα ανάκαμψης στην αγορά των media το επόμενο διάστημα (No hope of recovery for the Media Market), Isotimia newspaper, accessed at http://www.isotimia.gr/default.asp?pid=24&ct=20&artid=99447 (12 Oct 2011)
Papachristoudi, M. 2011 Η μάχη της εφεδρείας στην ΕΡΤ έφερε κρίση και στη διοίκηση (The battle of «reserve» in ERT brought crisis to the management) Isotimia newspaper, accessed at http://www.isotimia.gr/default.asp?pid=24&ct=20&artid=100524 (12 Oct 2011)
Katalipsi ESYEA (ESYEA occupation) 2011, Η εργοδοτική επιδρομή στα ΜΜΕ και τα «καινούργια ρούχα» της ΕΣΗΕΑ (The employers’ raid to the Media and the «new clothes» of the Union) accessed at http://katalipsiesiea.blogspot.com/ (12 Oct. 2011)
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