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A lot of press has been given to outrageous public sector salaries, though a majority 68 percent of workers in Greece — if fortunate to be employed — earn less than 1000 euros a month. Factual data on minimum salaries in the public and private sectors; discrimination by age, gender and nationality; and known percentages on who earns what are published below.
Also included are examples of jobs and salaries of Greek, EU and non-EU citizens I know, real people who agreed to share sensitive information. Presenting them as case studies was done with the intent of dispelling the myth that having a university degree, being experienced, speaking several languages and being Greek automatically entitles one to a good job and salary. In fact, salaries and working conditions in Greece are highly subjective.
Keep in mind that the recession in Greece has changed the hiring and firing landscape, as companies dump experienced professionals with higher salaries and replace them with cheap labor in order to survive. Job security and demand for workers is at an all-time low, with unemployment at record-high 27.8 percent overall — the highest in the EU — and 64.9 percent amongst youth under 25.
In reality, the jobless rate is higher since a person working as little as 16 hours a week is categorized as employed. Even those who work full time are not compensated properly because their contracts say ‘part-time’ or ‘temporary’ on paper, which legally allows employers to avoid paying minimum wage, insurance and benefits that will lower future pension payments.
Austerity measures lowered wages 22 percent for workers aged 25 & older and 32 percent for workers under 25 in the private sector as of February 14, 2012
March 1, 2012. Many employees have already been forced to accept reductions in pay and benefits or be fired, while others have not been paid salaries for several months.
*Article last updated October 9, 2014. There is one update pending.
Basic information on salaries
– The legal gross minimum wage is 586.08 euros/month in the private sector as of February 14, 2012, effective until January 1, 2018. Previous to austerity measures, it was 751.39 euros/month from July 1, 2011, set by a collective agreement by the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) collective agreement; and in 2010 it was 739.56 euros/month. Stats show 50 percent of workers in the private sector earn less than 1140 euros/month; and women, on average, earn 400 euros/month less than men.
– The basic gross salary for a civil servant with a compulsory education is 711 euros/month. A majority 80 percent of workers in the public sector earn 1000-1500 euros/month and have salaries 40 percent higher than private sector workers, once allowances and bonuses are added. They
only work 35 hours a week and have jobs for life and only began working 40 hours/week on August 16, 2011 (aka, September 2, 2011, Greek time).
– Salaries of staff working for Parliament earn an average of 3000 euros/month, not including perks, overtime pay and a lump-sum retirement bonus of 60 months salary for 30 years of service, during which they cannot be fired and are not subject to austerity salary cuts. The retirement bonus is in addition to their pension.
– The average monthly salary in Greece is 780 euros per month, which is up from the previous 633 euros. In the EU, only Portugal, Spain and new members rank lower.
– Salaries in Greece, on average, shrank by 6.2 percent (wage) and 9.3 percent (benefits/allowances) in 2011. Eurozone salaries went up 2.3 percent on average but are not keeping pace with inflation.
– Private sector salaries shrank between 10-42 percent in 2011, and they be lowered further in 2012. Behind the scenes, many employers are already forcing workers to take pay cuts and reduced hours.
– It is legal for an employer to offer employees aged 18-25 a gross monthly salary of 510.95 euros/month for full-time work as of February 14, 2012. Previously it was 591.60 euros, as of July 1, 2011. One in three work contracts is part time, so many workers earn as little as 200-300 euros.
– Being a country of less than 11 million people with a work force of an estimated 4.5 million — shrinking an average of 600+ workers daily with the current debt crisis — the diversity and availability of jobs is incredibly limited.
– Of full-time workers aged 16 years and older, 25 percent earn minimum wage and 6.2 percent earn below minimum wage. Non-Greek workers are lowest paid in Greece. To understand the magnitude of 25 percent, only 3.2 percent of full-time workers aged 16 years and older in the USA earn minimum wage.
– Salaries are always quoted in net; the only time I’ve ever heard salaries quoted otherwise is when an employer wants to trick a newbie into thinking they will be earning more by adding the nearly 35.4 percent IKA contribution — employee 13.22 percent; employer 22.18 percent — thus quoting gross.
– Women on the whole are perceived as only good for babies and not in need of money or a career because she has a husband, property (akin to dowries) and/or family to support her. It makes no difference if it’s untrue. Foreign women have an even tougher time because of racial profiling and discrimination. See “Overeducated and Unemployed: Women finding little success in Greece” (NY Times).
– Employers discriminate by age and gender. Ads will often request that men be aged 35 and under with Greek military obligations completed, and women be 30 and under with no children. This is illegal but unfortunately common.
– Greece operates on a 14-payment system, as do many other EU nations. An annual salary is divided into 14 equal payments to be given monthly, then a payment at Christmas and two half payments at Easter and in summer. Each holiday payment is called a ‘doro’, translated as ‘gift’, but is not a bonus or extra salary; these are forced savings payments. See “Christmas doro” for a full explanation.
– Employees in Greece are paid once a month after the final day has passed, unless otherwise arranged; and payment of the ‘doro’ is usually set by the insurance fund.
– Annual raises are gauged by official inflation rates, which are normally a fraction of real inflation rates. Few employers grant them, even after much negotiation and justification, and austerity has frozen most pay raises until 2014. Nearly everyone I know has had their pay cut by 10-40 percent.
– The tax-free threshold was lowered from 12,000 euros to 5,000 euros
for the 2011 income year and beyond, and there is no additional tax burden only if you can provide a required percentage of receipts as of 2010. That means low-wage earners and pensioners living at the poverty level may be obligated to pay tax (Click “Greek Taxes” for more information).
– Payroll taxes amount to 28 percent paid by the employer and 16 percent by the employee, but half of all companies in Greece hire workers off the books in the private sector and pay neither tax nor insurance contributions.
Example 1: Greek-American TV reporter and journalist
My friend Nestor has dual U.S. and Greek citizenship, speaks both Greek and English like a native speaker, finished his army obligations, has a university education in journalism and several years experience as a reporter, editor and TV anchor, plus he co-hosted a show on STAR TV and was a VJ on Mad TV. He has a great job, right?
In the 15 years he’s worked in Athens, none of his employers have been willing to give him a contract as a salaried worker with IKA (insurance) and bonuses. Employers see him as overqualified and too expensive to retain as an employee.
As a result, he maintains an independent status, issues receipts, keeps his own books, pays his own OAEE (formerly TEBE) insurance at 289 euros and rising, gets no paid vacation, no 13th/14th salary and often needs to chase after his bosses to pay wages. To be clear, he’s not freelance. He works normal hours, Monday-Friday. He’s just not treated as a salaried employee, could lose his job at any time and would not be entitled to unemployment benefits if he did.
He considers himself lucky, since many he knows in the industry had to do “favors” in order to get and keep their jobs. I’m sure you can guess what those “favors” might have been.
He now works for a large tourism company, but his job is in danger of being cut because little importance is placed on PR and communications.
Example 2: American bank administrator
My Greek friend Eva, who has a university education in banking and previous experience, works as a financial administrator for an American bank in Athens. She speaks native Greek and basic English. Her starting salary in 1995 was 550 euros. Fifteen years later with the same company, she only earns 1100 euros, which is wholly due to the fact she accessed the labor union’s salary index, risked losing her job and legally forced her company to raise it to this level by filing a claim against them several years in a row.
A colleague of hers is fresh from university, has no experience or skills, and cannot operate a computer. He got a job as a account manager with no CV or cover letter or interview, and his starting salary was 1,450 euros; he now earns 1,800 euros a month. Why? He’s the boss’ nephew.
For those who are keeping track, it also shows that working for an American financial institution does not guarantee better treatment, better wages or a greater need for native English speakers, as all employees are native Greek speakers with little or no English-language skills. A male colleague who once worked as a delivery boy was promoted to sales rep, while Eva remains stuck despite being highly qualified.
Example 3: Greek business owner
My Greek-American friend Marcos, a dual citizen who is university educated and a former business owner in Florida, sold his business and home to come to Greece and open a business in the same field. Once he made it past the paperwork, he was successful because his family is well-known and he speaks Greek and English like a native speaker.
Two years later, he closed his business because he had problems collecting money from the same family friends who owe him more than 20,000 euros. He could bring several lawsuits, but it would take years to get convictions and money from his own pocket to pursue them, with no guarantee he would ever recover his debts. (Currently, the courts are backlogged with 300,000 lawsuits). Further, he can no longer build a penthouse on his family’s home in Voula due to the implementation of a new law that prevents it, so the money he already invested is gone.
He is contemplating the future and a possible move back to America for the sake of his wife and children. In the meantime, he works as a sales account manager for 900 euros/month plus IKA, bonuses and commission (variable), and his wife and children live apart from him on an Ionian island assisting his parents with their taverna. Marcos’ wife was the manager of a multinational company in Florida, and Marcos believes it’s not worth her time to work here at a meaningless job for peanuts, so he works harder and she stays home with their two children. His parents support their decision to leave if it comes to that.
*Update: Marcos and his wife are still married but are now a two-country couple. She lives and works in the United States with their two children, and he remains in Greece driving a taxi to remain near his aging mother who is a widower.
Example 4: Non-EU office assistant
A non-EU health administrator was married to a Greek woman and had a child before moving to Athens. After a year in Athens, they divorced and he remained here for his daughter though he cannot speak Greek, does not have money or time to learn, and works as an office assistant for 1200 euros/month after eight years, IKA and proper bonuses.
The job requires him to work 10 hours/day, twice a month on Saturday and varied hours that change almost daily, but he won’t leave this job because he understands that it will be difficult to find something better. “Predictable %$#@ with a tad of respect is better than unknown %$#@,” he says.
He hopes his now unemployed ex-wife will eventually agree to move away from Greece, so he can get his career back on track and provide a better life for his daughter. But it’s already been seven years, and she has no motivation to leave because her parents gave her a mortgage-free home and financed her daughter’s private education.
Example 5: Doctor in Athens, Greece
My friend Carol is a from a family of doctors in Athens and has her own practice. Since having a child, she now only works three nights a week because her husband works full-time during the day, and their aging parents are unable to help her with child care except two nights a week. Her husband does not help with child care and seldom shows up for appointments when he promises.
Paying for full-time child care (five days and five nights) would be almost as expensive as cutting back her hours, so it was decided she would stay home and earn less money even though she is the breadwinner. This option is only possible because her husband’s parents gave them a brand new apartment as a wedding gift, otherwise her full-time salary would be necessary. She considers herself fortunate, even though they cannot afford to have another child.
Those seeking to be dentists, pharmacists and doctors in Greece should know one key thing: They’re closed professions. What does that mean? A limited number of licenses are available at a price of 100,000 euros or more (not an exaggeration) and have belonged to Greek citizens for decades, which is why these professions are passed through generations.
Greece has too many doctors, more people are turning to substandard care at state hospitals since the crisis, and medical salaries and conditions vary widely, same as other countries. You can check these articles for more information: “Quest for greener pastures,” “One in four doctors is unemployed, two per day leave Greece to seek work abroad,” “6,000 Greek physicians working in Germany as of 2012,” “Athens: Highest per capita of doctors in Europe,” “Greece hemorrhaging doctors” and “Beating the brain drain.”
*Update: Carol divorced her husband after his indiscretion and retains custody of their son. She rents an apartment, hired full-time child care and had to return full time to her practice to pay these new expenses, since her ex pays little child support, won’t share child care and kept all her furniture and clothes.
Example 6: Embassy in Athens employee
My friend Bob is a driver and bodyguard for an embassy here in Athens. He’s a half-Greek EU citizen with a diplomatic lineage, educated and speaks three languages fluently. Not claiming Greek citizenship is a personal choice.
In exchange for being on-call nearly 24/7, never having advance notice of his schedule or vacation time and working 65-80 hours a week at different hours, he is paid more than 2000 euros/month, which is mostly overtime pay. He asked that I not disclose his normal 40-hour/week salary.
It is also important to note that he has no social life, no routine, no real vacation and no life. There is currently no plan to hire additional staff, so Bob stays focused on being grateful for his job instead of complaining. He would like to be married and have a child sometime soon, but his job shows no sign of slowing down or promotion potential after 17 years, and every woman he’s dated finds him undependable due to his erratic work schedule.
He would like to leave Greece, but his parents are divorced, and there is no one to assist his aging mother since his younger sister already has a family and her husband’s aging parents to care for.
Example 7: Non-EU business owner
Raymond is a non-EU citizen who opened an ethnic food store before the new law of depositing 60,000 euros came into effect. Over the years, his business has grown but not to the point he can afford to hire an employee so he works six days a week from 7:00-20:00, sometimes only closing the shop for an hour or two to handle bureaucracy that inevitably follows non-EU citizens. He has an accountant do his books and taxes.
His shop is busy, and he is grateful but he only has enough to maintain a small apartment, cover basic needs and go out seldom since seeing a movie, enjoying dinner out or having a drink cuts into his budget. The shop is closed on major holidays and for three weeks every two years when he takes a vacation.
He would like to bring his wife here to live. However, he doesn’t earn the minimum salary required to bring over a non-EU family member and secure her a residence/work permit.
*Update: Raymond decided to close his business at the end of 2008 (before the crisis began) and return to his homeland, where he has reunited with relatives and his wife to start a family.
Example 8: Greek-American Photographer
Thanos has an American degree in photography and has worked both in the United States and Europe for more than 20 years. Speaking Greek and English fluently, his primary employers in the States were newspapers in addition to freelance projects in both traditional and digital photography for books, rock bands and gallery shows.
Since coming back to Athens 15 years ago, he has struggled to provide for his family because employers either don’t pay him or pay several months late, so he often takes work as a wedding photographer (something he hates) or picks up side jobs at restaurants to ensure the bills get paid. Unfortunately, many people now ask relatives or friends to take wedding photographs or opt for a simple civil ceremony to save money since the crisis began.
According to Thanos and several friends in the same field, photography jobs are not plentiful because the coveted spots are usually held by the same person until retirement or won by people with connections. With Greek media outlets closing and others in deep financial trouble, there are fewer positions and a lot of unemployed photographers and journalists.
Example 9: OTE employee
Vassilis is a Greek citizen speaking Greek and a low level of English and German, has no university degree or previous work experience. His parents had a connection at OTE (Greek phone company), so he applied and she got him the job.
He originally started as a roving employee on a team with two experienced technicians, who taught him the logistics of the job. He earned 533 euros a month in 2004. This lasted until his temporary contract expired, and he was left unemployed.
In late 2005, he was rehired by OTE but placed in an office where he had no experience dealing with customers or using a computer. As he told me, he shows up at around 7:30, takes a coffee break around 9:30, lunch at 11:30 for an hour, then leaves at 15:00. He earned 670 euros a month. His boss doesn’t reprimand him because she herself comes in around 8:30 after dropping off her children at school, then leaves around 12:30 to pick them up and never returns though she collects her full salary.
He’s able to have a car because he lives at home and has no other expenses beyond those associated with his car and going out.
In 2007, he was released from OTE with the promise of being hired back in 6-12 months as per terms of his contract, so he found work at a local Pro-Po gambling outlet and as a waiter through a cousin.
*Update: He is now a full-time broadband engineer with OTE, though he knew nothing about the Internet in 2008 and still has no university degree or technical training in this area. I do not know his salary.
Example 10: Programmers at IT company based in Greece with a worldwide clientele
Nikos is a Greek citizen who was educated in the UK and speaks Greek, German and English. Years ago, he started with a well-known chain store as their tech guy, doing light programming and manning the help desk. In 2002, he jumped to a specialized software company tapped into the latest innovations (rare in Greece) earning 900 euros a month. He works alongside 60 other programmers and five techs of which 85 percent are Greek citizens speaking a higher proficiency of English or repatriated dual citizens from the UK, Australia and the United States. Today, he is considered one of the more talented programmers on staff and earns 1,700 euros a month, which is a small fortune since his parents gave him an apartment and he pays no rent. In 2009, he married and now supports his unemployed girlfriend who has been in school for nine years and hasn’t gradated.
Brendan is an EU citizen from the UK, who moved to Greece at the urging of his Greek wife. He speaks only English, but graduated from a UK university and has worked in IT for the past 10 years for well-known multinational companies. In 2004, he was hired and paid 900 euros a month; considered one of the most efficient and talented on staff, he now earns 1,300 euros a month. He suspects his salary is lower than his peers, but likely won’t look for something else because he’s paid on time, left alone and knows that finding another company with such a big budget is rare.
Dimitra is a Greek citizen, educated at a local university in Greece and speaks/writes English at a low level. She started at the same software company in 2003, earning 700 euros a month, and is only one of three women programmers employed at the company. After being mentored by several senior programmers, she is still considered mediocre by her peers and earns 1,250 euros a month. It doesn’t matter to her, since she is married, now has a child and is not interested in furthering her career or changing jobs. She is supported by her husband and uses her salary for shopping.
Irina is a non-EU citizen who has been here for seven years, graduated from a American college in Greece at the top of her class and speaks fluent Greek, English, Bulgarian and German. Considered bright and talented by her peers, she was hired illegally by the same company at an hourly wage without IKA in 2003 and moved up to 850 euros a month with IKA in late 2005. The boss refused to give her a raise or more responsibilities in 2006, so she left for multinational and earned 1,200 a month in a more senior role. She changed companies again in 2009 and earned slightly more, then left for Germany in 2011 when companies began discriminating against non-Greeks as unemployment continued to rise. She’s happier and earns considerably more in an environment where there is also promotion potential.
*Names in this post were changed for privacy reasons, and this post is regularly updated as more people come forward to share their stories.
“Brain drain: Greece bleeding its brightest” — CNBC
“Ασφάλιση µε εργόσηµο” — Ta Nea
“«Σπάει» ο κατώτατος µισθός” — Ta Nea
“Full-time workers in the USA” — Bureau of Labor Statistics
“Minimum wage workers in the USA” — Bureau of Labor Statistics
For more information, see the category “Jobs in Greece” or start your job search with links in the third column.
586 and 527 gross by law 4046/2012
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