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Greek traders are strongly opposed to the Italian model for liberalization of opening hours

04 January 2012 / 23:01:10  GRReporter
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Victoria Mindova

Turnover of stores in Greece around Christmas declined by 30 percent. From the 13 million Euros turnover in December of 2010 stores this year reached only nine million Euros. "Greeks this year were less generous than in previous years, not because we wanted it, but because the economic situation forced us," said for GRReporter the president of the Greek trade union Vassilis Korkidis. He presented statistics of the organization, according to which two of every five consumers preferred to buy their loved ones gifts at a lower price. Also two of every five have chosen to buy only children's goods, because the holidays are a priority for children and there were no other available resources for other family members. "Only one in five has adhered to the traditionally most popular gifts at Christmas and headed to stores for clothing."

Despite the holidays, retailers in Greece remained in a bad mood because of the serious decline in sales. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Italy a new law came into force with which the government allows "free" store opening times and gave permission for a 24-hour working day. The proposal was adopted with mixed feelings in the country and different voices "for" and "against" were heard.

In Greece, however, the mere mention of such a measure has incensed representatives of trade unions and associations. The president of the Athens Trade Association Panagis Karelas was the first to speak up and say emphatically, "Do not even think of introducing the Italian model in Greece!" He said that such a measure will be useful only for commercial sites that have zero connection with their customers. Karelas insists that unlimited working time will not solve the problems of the traders which have arisen from the crisis, nor will it help increase employment.

Young Maria, who is the owner of a lights shop believes that liberalization of opening hours will not drastically change the market situation, but still does not oppose the measure. According to her implementation of such a measure makes sense in larger cities where there is a tourist flow. "If we talk about Italy, the measure might work, because in cities like Rome and Milan there is the phenomenon called shopping tourism. People come from different countries, sometimes just to shop. But in the Italian provinces and smaller cities, public transportation stops at 10 o’clock at night and I find it to be a bit of an exaggeration to push stores to work nonstop." She believes that bars and night clubs will benefit from such a measure, because in any case they are open until the wee hours.

Greek trade union president Vassilis Korkidis also gave his opinion on this and other topics:

Do you agree with the introduction of the Italian model for the full liberalization of opening hours of stores in Greece?

First we will wait and see whether this model will work positively in Italy. The first signs are not encouraging. The president of the Italian Union of Traders Marco Venturi said that at least 26,000 retail outlets will close after the introduction of the measure. We in Greece already have enough bankruptcies to permit similar experiments. In the past 20 months more than 68,000 stores have closed, as have many other types of enterprises and we have a constant rate of four thousand bankrupt enterprises and trade companies per month. The problem in Greece is that there are no available hours for the client. The client in our case does not have money. As long as the stores remain open turnover will not increase because the average consumer does not have anything in his pocket right now. Let this model be applied elsewhere and then we can join it if it is successful. We have been Europe’s guinea pigs for quite a while on other new measures as well and so far none are promising.

However, in order to apply the full liberalization of working time in Italy there must be some positive aspects. What are they?

The longer working hours, suggest a higher turnover in theory, this is why it is believed that the opportunity for more jobs will be increased. In practice, however, this cannot happen because consumption is decreasing continuously due to the economic crisis. People will not buy more because stores remain open for longer. The ultimate idea of ​​the Government of Monti is to increase employment. Instead, however, the more flexible labour relations law will increase the operating costs of small and large businesses will increase significantly. Mainly for the large ones, because they consume more electricity. For small traders, who manage their business themselves (from procurement to sales and advertising) and are unable to recruit staff, the implementation of this measure is beyond their physical capabilities. Working two or three shifts a store can stay open for 14 hours and many small retailers will not withstand the competition.

So you believe that the model will not survive even in Italy?

Yes, it will not last. Mainly some bars, night clubs and supermarkets will benefit from it, but generally it will not have any significant positive effect on the economy.

You talk about a crisis, but over the past year and a half at least five new large shopping centres have been opened in the area of ​​the city and around it in an area of a thousand square metres, which have made significant investments. How do you explain this phenomenon?

We applaud any initiative that brings investment and new jobs. We have nothing against it, conversely Greece needs a stimulation of the economy with fresh money. Of course, this type of retail outlets fell in turnover by 5 to 10 percent as well. We are all affected by the crisis but the amount of damage is different. In any case, I do not think that if large stores open, they harm the small ones.

My point is that if large investments are made then does this mean that investors can expect a lighter 2012 than it is foreseen by economists?

Unfortunately not, 2012 will not be a light year and we all know that. We do not expect this year to bring any growth or improvement. It will be the most difficult trading year for Greece and for many of our colleagues it will be a year of survival. All measures that have been taken up until now with high taxes, excise duties and fines stifle the market and development will not be good. During the first three months of this year it will be clear where things are going, no matter whether it's for better or for worse. We will just see an outline of what our opportunities are and what we can do in the future.

Do you believe that the advent of a new government will help stabilize the situation in the country?

In order to break this doomed circle of uncertainty I believe that elections should be held as soon as possible in order to establish a democratically elected government. We should now be completing with the signing of the second loan agreement and with the participation of private owners in debt reduction (PSI), so we can get out as soon as possible from this situation. This is the only way we can banish the ghosts of complete bankruptcy and the drachma, which have been floating around us lately.

The most important thing is for politicians in the country to provide security in the future. This is the only way to change the climate of the market, to bring back positive thinking and to "warm up" the local economy and trade.

Tags: Greece Italy liberalization working hours economy crisis measures
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