Leaked Memo Urges Greece to Move to Six-Day Work Week

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is "The World". President Barack Obama is hoping to get a boost tonight from Bill Clinton. The former President is set to address the Democratic National Convention. The Obama Campaign hopes he'll remind Americans of a time when a democrat presided over a sustained period of US economic growth. Bill Clinton did not have to deal, though, with a lingering economic crisis in Europe. As we've learned over the past couple of years, Europe's financial woes can have a big impact on American's pocketbooks, and those woes are dragging on. In the next few minutes we'll hear about the economic challenges facing Finland and Spain, but we're going to start off today with Greece where the government is under pressure to officially expand the work week beyond five days. The World's Clark Boyd has been covering Greece's economic woes. He traveled there several times in the past year. Tell us, Clark, about this proposal to expand to Greek work week.

Clark Boyd: Well, Lisa, this is a leaked memo that was sent to Greek ministries by European Union leader and it basically said that one of the measures they should consider is doing away with this anachronistic law that said that Greeks can only work five days.

Mullins: Absolutely only five days?

Boyd: Absolutely only five days straight. So there's no, you know, whereas in the rest of Europe you might have factory factories who do eight days on, four days off. In Greece they can't do that. They can only work five days.

Mullins: OK. So is this, by the way, a mandate or a suggestion to the Greek government?

Boyd: It's not a mandate. It's a measure that they're suggesting as a way to make the Greek economy more productive, to make the country more attractive to investors from outside who expect more flexible labor laws. There is nothing that says that the Greek government has to sign off on this.

Mullins: OK. I know there are other measures that were proposed too, but as far as this one goes, would it actually help the economy?

Boyd: I think people are of two minds about this. On the one hand, in the medium term, the longer term, this is just the kind of structural reform that many think Greece needs to be productive, both from an internal point of view and also productive in a wider European economy. On the other hand, I was trading emails today with Aristotle Kallis who is a Greek political scientist, he teaches in the UK, and let me just read a little bit from the email he wrote back. He said the Greek laws are anachronistic, but he said the timing of this proposal is "nothing short of lousy". "It will fan the flames of unrest, torpedo the governing coalition, enrage stakeholders, and derail Greece once and for all."

Mullins: I guess he doesn't like it.

Boyd: No, I think he actually sees, like many, I think he sees the value in trying to push the Greeks to enact these kinds of reforms, but at the same time, the timing of this leak is very, very bad. Greece is, we say this over and over, Greece is on a knife edge again. You know, will it stay in the Euro? Will it fall out of the Euro? And they're sitting there, waiting to find out whether they've done enough to get this next round of loans for the country to even stay solvent, and for them then to have this sort of outside force come in and keep telling them, "This is the way you should run your affairs," it grates on them.

Mullins: And the creditors, presumably moved by the fact that Greece's unemployment rates stands at thirty percent?

Boyd: Absolutely, Lisa.

Mullins: So, Clark, it seems indicative of larger tensions between the Greeks and their creditors. Can you tell us what's going on?

Boyd: Well, I think that you're seeing this little Brouhaha over this leaked memo and the idea of well, expand the work week, you're seeing this tension rise once again between Greece want to stay in the Euro, the majority of the population feels like the Euro has been a good thing for them, but at the same time, they don't want any of these outside people coming in and telling them how to run their affairs. So you've got this fundamental tension here between is Greece going to be a sovereign state and take care of itself and maybe drop out of the Euro and back to the Drachma? Or is it going to remain part of the Euro and do what Europe thinks it needs to do to stay in?

Mullins: The World's Clark Boyd. Thanks for joining us.

Boyd: You're welcome, Lisa.