Ukrainian village taken over with destroyed tanks, bodies and questions

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CHANIA, Greece: Chryssa Vertakis’ three-star Hotel Crete is nearly full this summer, but her guests will have to eat elsewhere because her kitchen has no chef and no cooks.
Like hotel owners across the country, she is facing severe staff shortages after two years of pandemic restrictions that have seen masses of hotel workers seek work elsewhere.
The key industry – which provides a quarter of Greece’s national income – relies heavily on foreign staff to work as waiters, cleaners, busboys and cooks.
Many Bulgarians working as cleaners at the Alexia Beach hotel in Vertakis went home during last year’s lockdown and did not return, she told AFP.
Greeks have also sought jobs in other sectors in response to Covid-shortened seasons that have deepened long-standing grievances over working hours and low wages.
“Seasonal employees cannot support their families with three and four months of work (a year),” Nikos Kokolakis, president of hotel employees in Iraklio, the capital of Crete, told La ERT public television.
The Greek catering workers’ union also says it’s no surprise that eligible workers shun an industry where some operators “require 10-12 hours of work with no day off, offering just 700 euros ($740) per month”.
Andreas Andreadis, honorary president of the association of Greek tourism companies (SETE), warned that the Greek travel industry was currently short of more than 50,000 employees, mainly in kitchen and service.
“Our quality tourism is in danger,” he tweeted earlier this month.
The shortage threatens to thwart a positive start to the season, helped by Greece’s decision to open in March, two months earlier than in 2021.
In order to further increase the number of visitors, the government in February abolished compulsory screening tests for travelers holding a European vaccination certificate.
And vaccine passes will no longer be required in restaurants, bars and shops from May 1, while mandatory masks indoors will be scrapped from June 1.
Vertakis said the easing of restrictions had raised hopes in the industry of a return to 2019 levels, when 33 million tourists visited.
“But without staff to accommodate so many people, it will be a problem,” she said.
Nektarios Seremetis, who manages the restaurants and bars at the four-star Thalassa Beach Resort on the same coast, is short of three waiters.
“Those who worked for us in 2019 left and found jobs in Cyprus or Italy, where the salaries are higher,” he said.
Last month, Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias suggested some of those positions could be filled among the more than 22,000 Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Greece since the Russian invasion in February.
Seremetis is not opposed to the idea, provided the refugees can speak English.
But few Ukrainians have traveled to Crete so far, he said.
The war also reduced the number of tourists to Greece.
The dispute has led to the loss of some 600,000 Russians and 240,000 Ukrainians who have canceled bookings, Lyssandros Tsilidis, head of the Federation of Travel Agencies of Greece, told AFP earlier this month.
At the Chryssi Akti hotel in Crete, Alexandros Pantelakakis has mostly resigned himself to taking care of the parasols and deckchairs alone this season.
Pantelakakis said many Greeks, including the man who normally helps him on the beach, have not received enough state support to cope with two working seasons shortened by the pandemic.
“They hadn’t paid enough social security contributions for the past two years to get unemployment benefits,” Pantelakakis said.
“So when the tourist season (in 2020 and 2021) was cut short by the pandemic, many had to find jobs elsewhere,” he said.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced last week a €50 increase in the monthly minimum wage from May 1 to €713.
Pantelakakis sees this as a “drop in the bucket” given the rising cost of living.
Inflation in Greece is around 8%, according to European data agency Eurostat.
It doesn’t make it any easier for employers either, says Alexia Beach owner.
“Energy and food costs are on the rise. The salaries offered are low, but we can’t do better, our running costs have increased by 15% this year,” she said.

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