AT the height of their musical powers, R.E.M. wrote some of the loveliest songs in rock music. In ‘Everybody Hurts’ the singer gives comfort to some poor soul who’s life isn’t going too well. The lyrics of that song spring to mind when thinking about the tough times being endured by our friends in Greece.
If you haven’t been to Greece in recent months you can be forgiven for not grasping the scale of their economic woes. A noticeable number of shops lie empty, there are far more homeless people on the streets and we have heard stories of children fainting at school through malnutrition. It’s not quite tumbleweed on Akti Miaouli, but there is a child wind in the air.
It’s easy to scoff and knock the Greeks for the national pastime that is receiving salaries net of tax and a love of brown envelopes, but those of us in shipping can’t deny that we’ve all done well off the back of the salty blood flowing through Greek veins. Anyhow, there is now considerable pressure, we understand, for employers in Greece to clean up their act and declare salaries fully and pay the appropriate taxes. In many ways, this is good for the quality Greek shipowners who already do this and it should serve to level up the local playing field.
But, add to this shift in tax culture new tax increases of 10-15% plus a 4% ‘solidarity tax’ and no wonder everybody hurts in Greece just now.
The timing isn’t good of course. A few companies have absorbed the massive cost that comes with compensating their staff for one or other of these factors and so have preserved some or all of their net salaries. A great many more have not and could not afford to do so even if they wanted to.