Greek labor union foresees worse economic future ahead of relaunch of anti-austerity protests

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Greece's largest umbrella labor union of private sector employees GSEE foresees a worse economic future for Greek workers in the coming years due to austerity-triggered recession, warning of new record high unemployment rates while predicting a "substantial" job recovery in two decades.

Ahead of the opening of the northern city of Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF) on Saturday and the parallel grand premiere of the new round of protests this autumn, GSEE released its annual report on the state and the prospects of Greek economy.

During the past three years of pay cuts and tax hikes introduced to counter the debt crisis which pushed the country to the brink of default, Greek wage earners lost a total of 37 billion euros (about 48.5 billion U.S. dollars).

The sum accounts for loss of about 37.2 percent of the purchasing power of their incomes which pushed Greek households back to 1999 levels, the report said.

GSEE's Labor Institute experts estimated that austerity policies will further push unemployment rates from the current record high 28 percent recorded in recent months,the worst in five decades, to up to 31.5 percent in 2014.

It will take two decades to reduce unemployment to below 10 percent to pre-crisis levels and make up for the losses Greek households suffered, the labor union added.

It contradicted government estimates that the waves of austerity measures would lead to "better days soon," starting with gradual economic recovery in 2014, after six years of deep recession.

For GSEE experts as well as opposition parties and other critics of the ongoing Greek austerity and reform program launched in 2010 under bailout deals with international creditors, the way to effectively tackle recession is to quickly pass through the increase of slashed wages in order to boost domestic demand.

Salary raises is the key element of GSEE's alternative proposal to overcome the crisis and will be the main slogan during the rallies scheduled to take place in Thessaloniki on Saturday after TIF's inauguration by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

As part of the measures to slash deficits and boost development to overcome the crisis, the minimum wage was lowered last year to 586 euros per month.

Savvas Robolis, director of GSEE's Labor Institute, said the minimum salary's increase back to 751 euros will strengthen domestic demand by 0.75 percent, the GDP by 0.5 percent and employment by 7,000 new job positions annually.

According to Robolis, salary raises combined with a new restructure of Greece's sovereign debt burden next year and policies to combat tax evasion and boost investments would speed up the effect on GDP growth and job recovery in coming years.

However, bound by the terms of the three-year bailout agreements with European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders who has been keeping Greece afloat with some 250 billion euro in loans within the euro zone, the Greek government seems to be in no position to offer dramatic relief to wage earners at the moment, according to analysts.

Despite delays and missed targets in the implementation of the current Greek fiscal adjustment and growth program, Greek and international officials dismissed critics' gloomy scenarios, expecting a primary surplus and the start of recovery in the near future.

During his speech on Saturday on the state and prospects of the national economy - which is part of a TIF tradition for Greek Premiers for decades - Samaras is expected to focus on the necessity of the full and swift implementation of structural reforms to restore development, as agreed with creditors.

Some 4,000 policemen have already been deployed in Thessaloniki this week, since protests organized by trade unions and opposition parties are also part of TIF's traditions.

This year, labor unions resumed anti-austerity mobilizations after the summer lull from late August with small protests which focus on the unprecedented mass dismissals and transfers of tens of thousands of civil servants in the context of efforts to streamline civil services.

GSEE and the umbrella union of public sector employees ADEDY have called for a general strike later in September, as the envoys of international lenders are due back in Athens for the assessment of the program and the planning of the next round of measures ahead of the release of the next aid tranche to Greece by November. Endi

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