Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Operation broomstick (Επιχείρηση σκούπας)

Επιχείρηση σκούπας (Operation broomstick): this phrase is often used to denote the random 'sweeping' action taken by the Greek police to round up illegal immigrants. 

It's not difficult to understand why some Greeks are turning to Golden Dawn, directly or indirectly, to solve their problems these days. Their lack of education leads them to think that foreigners (and not Greeks) are to blame for their problems. Their interests are pretty much focussed on how to hog their job without having other forms of cheaper labour sources take it from them. The violent tactics of Golden Dawn party members along with their supporters have become front-page news all over the world. But there are other more sublte and legal ways of showing defying the 'enemy', which inadvertently help the state in their general task, with a surprisingly positive result obtained by legal means. I think this is the road that Greece is going to be taking, not the ridiculous one of total annihilation that is being portrayed in the mass media.

Aποκλειστικές (apo-kli-stik-ES) are nurses that are privately hired by the patient or their care provider (family member), to provide one-to-one attention to the patient. This is usually done because in Greek people's minds, Greek hopsital care is inadequate. I specifically mention 'in Greek people's minds', because I believe it is a mistaken belief: ask our ex-pat residents from Northern Europe to tell you what they think about Greek hospitals, and they will say exactly the opposite from what the Greeks say - that the care and attention provided by the doctors and nurses is very good, and in their opinion, they would not have received similar attention in a UK hospital. I won't go further into explaining this, except to say that it has to do with the great difference in the levels of social education of the average Greek and Brit, and their beliefs (Greeks meddle in doctors' affairs, Brits show greater trust in their health system). Greeks also like to look after their sick family on a personal level, believing that they are the best person to look after them - but this often stems from their non-belief in the state system to do anything correctly. The Greek health sector allows people to stay overnight in a hospital with a patient, so there is no stopping anyone doing this, or paying someone else to do this in their place, which is where the αποκλειστικές come into play.

These αποκλειστικές are all women. They are often trained nurses with many years experience in patient hospital care, who became αποκλειστικές when they couldn't get a job within the state sector (the usual Greek sob story - everyone wants to be a public servant). They have their own union, they often wear a nurse-style uniform, and they do things that a state nurse in a Greek hospital should be doing (eg bathing patients, ensuring that a weak/incapacitated patient eats a meal, helping them to go to the toilet or providing a bedpan, etc), but does not usually do, mainly because the hospitals are understaffed. But there is also the other side of the coin, which is that the state nurses have 'learnt' not to do this because it is tacitly implied that the patients' carers have dealt with this side of the nursing profession. Whatever these αποκλειστικές do, they are - or should I say were - paid very highly for providing these services (which were very reliable). I recall paying about €100 for the most expensive shift (the weekend evening shift: 11pm-7am) in the recent pre-crisis past, when my mother-in-law (who had broken her leg) and my late father (bedridden, suffering from pancreatic cancer) were in hospital. Interestingly, αποκλειστικές often handed out receipts for the fees they charged, because these could be included in a patient's tax return, since medical care of this sort was tax-deductable (one of the few freelancer professions that has usually shown a high level of fiscal transparency), so receipts were always demanded by patients, because they knew that they could claim back on the fees.

I recently heard from a state nurse friend of mine (who will be retiring at the age of 50 next year, and will then begin to receive a reduced state pension, although she is worried that things may change in between these points in time - who cares what the troika asks for, since the merriment of the Greek public sector continues unabated) that the αποκλειστικές have watered down their prices during the crisis. On the one hand, they were forced to, due to the lack of disposable income among their clients; on the other hand, there was a readily available cheaper form of labour: the immigrant. Why hire an expensive nurse when you can hire a willing cheap immigrant to do exactly the same job?

The αποκλειστικές had been working side-by-side for a long time with the immigrant carers, until the crisis hit. My nurse friend tells me now that there are regularly 'sweeps' clearing the hospital of immigrant carers, instigated by the αποκλειστικές themselves. When an immigrant is spotted (in Crete, they stand out for their clothing and accent in spoken Greek, not necessarily for their skin colour or facial features), the αποκλειστικές inform the hospital security guards, and with their assistance, the status of the immigrant is ascertained (if they are legally in the country or not - like Greek citizens, they are required to carry some sort of identification and proof of residence, which comes in the form of a Greek ID card for Greeks). If they are illegals, they are carted out of the hospital (I don't know if the police gets involved or not).

But even if they are legally in the country, that doesn't actually mean that they are legally entitled to work as αποκλειστικές carers. The 'certified' αποκλειστικές have got very conniving in their intentions to keep their job in the crisis. After the immigrant's status is verified, their work status is then questioned: are they working with IKA? ie are they paying into the national social security system? ie are they paying tax on their earnings? Few Greeks bother to pay this on behalf of their hired immigrant labourers, which  provides the latter with entry into the healthcare and pension system, as well as ensuring that the income they are making is being taxed. Of course, this has left a number of patients in the lurch, because no warning is given during these random sweeps. The onus of being a legal immigrant in the country also involves paying taxes if in employment: for this reason, the αποκλειστικές are now a form of state caretaker. But this is now back-firing on Greek citizens who are not quite legal tender themselves. In other words, black market employment is being shown up.

It may sound racist to pick on people who look or sound different, but the tactics of the αποκλειστικές do not involve violence, and they are not being done to get anyone in trouble - this is all in aid of keeping one's job. Indirectly, they are helping the state to achieve what it initially set out to do - to make people pay taxes. My nurse friend tells me that these random sweeps are a regular event at the local hospital, and that these αποκλειστικές are the kind of people that can easily be swayed into voting for Golden Dawn because they see the immigrant as a threat to their prosperity. The subtle difference lies in being able to get the system working for you without having to resort to racism and violence. It's not a bad thing to protect your work, but you have to do it in a totally legal way, without infringing on immigrants' rights to live and work freely. Perhaps the tactics of the αποκλειστικές are providing a role model for others to follow.

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