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Greece feels the Christmas pinch

Christmas shop sales in Greece fell by nearly a third this year in the worst festive trading for years as the country grapples with a debt crisis and a severe recession.

The National Confederation of Greek Commerce said clothes and shoe sales took the heaviest hit, falling 40% compared to last Christmas. It added that consumption of food and drinks fell 15%, while toy sales suffered least.

The statement said 90% of Greeks spent less in Christmas 2011, "out of necessity, not choice."

Greece is heading for a fourth year of recession and has near-record high unemployment. It has been kept afloat by foreign rescue loans since May 2010, after years of government overspending took it to the brink of bankruptcy.

The confederation said the crisis had changed Christmas habits, with two in five shoppers opting for low-budget purchases this year. "There is a change in mood, in (financial) obligations, in priorities and habits," it said.

Hit by dwindling demand and draining liquidity, more and more Greek businesses are failing to pay workers' Christmas pay bonuses.

Labour Ministry inspectors said they have received more than 2,000 complaints from employees over non-payment of the seasonal bonus, which many depend on for their Christmas purchases.

The country's main union, the GSEE, said the trend was worrying, and urged authorities to crack down on employers who flout the law.

"During hard times for workers, who have already suffered dramatic pay cuts, non-payment of salaries or Christmas bonuses aggravates poverty and insecurity," it said.

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From Belfast Telegraph