Work rights; what Aussies got right
Nash Petropoulos compares work rights in Australia to Europe, specifically in Greece
At a time when everyone in Greece is talking about the need for legitimacy to prevail, hardly anyone hears about the work rights of legal immigrants that have been systematically impinged upon. An oversimplified explanation is that Greeks prefer them to be stuck in limbo as journalists and bloggers alike have argued.
They prefer them to be illegal, unregistered and unaccounted for. Greeks want the workforce in the countryside to continue to be immigrants with minimal citizenship, work and medical insurance rights. In reality, it is modern day slaves they're after.
Little do they realise that most of these people are just transiting through Greece for the greener pastures of more industrialized European countries. The hype in the media surrounding immigrants that have come to Greece to 'take everything away from us' is a fallacy. In actuality, we do whatever we can to trap them in that state. This us versus them rhetoric in the media tends to detract from the very core of the matter; it is the working class, regardless of their nationality, that is being depleted.
But just how innocent and devoid of responsibilities are the Greek workers? The biggest blunder from the union workers and majority of Greek workers was not demanding the government allow immigrants to have the same work conditions and collective work rights as Greek citizens following the aftermath of the opening of the borders in the 1990s. Thus, it was the Greeks, who without even realizing or admitting of doing so, used immigrants for at least two decades as cheap work hands.
They became objects of ruthless exploitation, ultimately setting the foundation for undermining the constitutionally secured work rights of Greek workers. Obviously, if the immigrants work without making their super contributions, it wouldn't be long before hundreds of thousands of Greeks would join their fate. Surely, one would anticipate that uninsured work, in the long run, is not more profitable, as it stimulates the pensions funds.
Surely, one would expect that Greek workers and immigrant workers would join forces to try to face those who would try to impinge on their work rights. In the IMF-EU troika era, the roles have been reversed and it is the Greek workers who try to get out of the country, without reflecting upon what they could have done different. No one seemed to be concerned with the fact that there were neither taxes collected for immigrants hard work nor protection when an immigrant was involved in a work accident.
It's as if there was a cloak of invisibility for everything pertaining to their existence. Many of the Greek workers now accuse the immigrants, and are keen on voting for any extreme right-wing party that promises to expunge the county from their sinister presence or any extreme left-wing party that thinks that the solution to everything is consecutive strikes for their rights (albeit belatedly) without working on a reasonable compromise.
On the flip side, when I first got to Melbourne approximately three years ago, within 2 weeks I had already received my TFN and it was my employer that had to make sure all the taxes and superannuation contributions were being paid. As a result of that, as a legal immigrant I had the same work rights and more or less paid the same taxes with Australian citizens.
Thus, in a way I was contributing to the legality and viability of the Australian economy. In Greece, the first time I dared ask if I need to sign any paperwork for a super, my employer laughed at me and genuinely thought I was being funny. Despite our diasporic journey, Greeks have somehow managed to forget what it's like to be taken advantage of, and decided instead that we could take immigrants for a ride. Now, slowly, Greeks are coming to terms with the fact that the ride is over. No wonder last year many thousands of Greeks applied to migrate to Australia; it turns out, in terms of work rights, Aussies got it right.
Nash Petropoulos is a tutor of Film Studies at Swinburne University of Technology.
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