Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Full-time long-term

Imagine seeing a headline like this:

Kind of shocking, isn't it, especially given the economic climate. It makes Greeks out to be very lazy and disinterested in working, as if they have enough to get by on and don't search for more ways to augment their income, which must be meagre now, given the job cuts, salary decreases and the high unemployment.

But the report that this headline appeared in cannot be giving incorrect information as it is based on statistics gathered from the state-run Greek employment agency ΟΑΕΔ, which is where people pick up their unemployment checks from (ie it's better known for its benefit payments than its job placement schemes), as well as data from freelance online sites like www.Freelancer.com and www.RealWritingJobs.com, where people sign up for small one-off part-time piecemeal work, which can often be done online while working form home. These jobs do not pay much, but someone dedicated to working freelance, preferring to keep an unstructured timetable without being tied to normal office hours, would enjoy this kind of work. Most of the jobs on these online sites involve only a few hours of work and only a small payment.

The article states that "many Greek freelancers have registered with these agencies and uploaded profiles but their accounts remain idle. They do not chase up jobs, they do not systematically check for any new offers and tend to respond to job invitations tardily or not at all." Another reason given in the article for Greeks generally lacking interest in such jobs is because of the small payments.

In fact, such working conditions are commonly found in western countries, where full-time long-term jobs are also difficult to find. This kind of work is in fact a way to keep someone busy without getting depsondent while looking for full-time long-term employment. Many see this kind of work as a foot in the door, which could lead on to something else with better money/conditions. There is also an emphasis on the idea that the employee is in charge of his/her working regime, being able to choose the amount of work taken on and the number of hours to be put in the job. I recall doing such piecemeal work myself in the (pre-online) New Zealand of over two decades ago, which also found itself living through a kind of home-grown economic crisis at the time.

The article also reported on a three-month long experiment conducted by a Greek daily newspaper (the same one which published the article), which posted freelance jobs on the sites mentioned above: "Not a single Greek freelancer responded to any of the job offers in a timely manner." It sounds like Greeks are not interested in finding work, but this is oversimplifying matters, of course.

Apart from the well-known problems involved with such work (eg start-up and membership fees), there is also another problem for Greeks, one which is often fuelled by misguided attitudes: Greeks don't see part-time work as 'real' work. When Greeks look for work, they are often in pursuit of full-time long-term employment. Part-time work is considered by most Greeks as something temporary, even though the truth is that many people work part-time on a long-term basis, because it may be all the work they can find and/or it may suit their lifestyle choice. Part-time work may also be considered a non-male territory in Greece; there is still a stigma attached to males working less than their wives, which is often the case in Greece, ever since the collapse of the building sector (a 'real' man's work territory). While traditional male occupations have suffered during the crisis, traditional female occupations haven't: where would (for example) the tourist industry in Crete be without hotel cleaning staff? Or night-time shift-work at a bakery, which women often prefer because they can work hours that do not interrupt the needs of taking care of the family? There are many other examples of women keeping on jobs in places like Crete, while their menfolk lost theirs. Not that there aren't any traditional part-time male roles too: fast-food motorbike deliverers are usually male.

The other problem with piecemeal online work also has to do with the low payment. OAED job offers are mainly of this kind: part-time temporary jobs with a low payment. I've heard of young people saying that the reason why they aren't interested in applying for certain jobs is because of the low payment being offered. It often surprises me to hear this, given that they are presently unemployed. I believe that these people do not really need the money (they often live at home with no expenses, or their parents are able to support them and pay their living expenses), otherwise they would have applied for the job. In a low-income household where parents are not able to support their children's smoking/cellphone/cafe habits, the children would be encouraged to take such jobs on. Then there are the people who do not accept the new employment conditions that Greece's money-lenders are demanding. If they are avoiding such work on grounds of principles, then they probably have other sources of income or charity that they can rely on. 

There's another bad Greek work trait that will also have to be considered when analysing why people aren't considering odd jobs. Some people have the mistaken idea that the job will find them, rather than chasing a job themselves. This was born out of the old system of finding work in the state sector: after graduating, a potential state job candidate went on some kind of waiting list for an open position, so that when, say, a school teacher or hospital doctor retired, the next person in line would be considered for the job (without any considerations concerning their appropriateness for the position). If a potentail employee wasn't prepared to wait that long for a state position, the most job chasing that they did for such a position was to pull strings.

It was once believed that people in the future will work less and have more time to spend on leisure. This may still be true, but our leisure activities may have to become more sustainable and less reliant on a high income. It's all very well for new jobs to be created in Greece, but attitudes towards work also need to change. Job requirements and specifications change as quickly as technology. People need to realise that the idea of a full-time long-term job is now a thing of the past.

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