Government seeks reform of labour relations in public enterprises

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The Greek Government is seeking to alter the way in which labour relations are conducted in public enterprises, by means of an article of a taxation bill submitted to Parliament in January 1998. This has aroused strong opposition amongst the trade unions and has given rise to strike action.

According to article 31, paragraph 8 of a taxation bill submitted by the Greek Government to Parliament on 7 January 1998, labour relations in public utilities and services (known as DEKO) will be regulated in future by law and not by agreement between management and staff. This contrasts with the current legal framework (Law 2141/1996, article 10, paragraph 4) which provides that: "In drawing up general staff regulations and in industrial relations matters, any change requires the agreement of both sides (employers and employees) through the procedure of signing a collective labour agreement with the enterprise's best represented trade union organisation."

According to the Minister of Labour and Social Security, this new clause will apply to "lame duck" enterprises "where an action plan must be created jointly with the workers in order to rescue the enterprise". The Minister of National Economy has made it clear that there will be no layoffs in such firms; redundant staff will merely be transferred to other sectors.

Most of the country's trade unions have come out against the attempt to modify the system of labour relations in public enterprises. Their basic argument is that the Government is trying to amend the clause that provides for democracy at the workplace and free collective bargaining as a means of resolving collective disputes. The president of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) has also raised the question of government credibility, stating that the Minister of National Economy "has once again failed to uphold Government commitments".

In a show of protest, the unions representing workers in public enterprises in financial difficulties launched their first rallies immediately after the relevant bill was submitted to Parliament, with the joint support of Greece's biggest unions, among them the GSEE, the Greek Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE) and the Greek Telecommunications Organisation Employees' Union (OME-OTE). Union opposition to Article 31 of the taxation bill will culminate in a nationwide strike that the GSEE has called for 22 January across the whole of DEKO, in collaboration with the unions in the public sector as a whole.

This issue has already been discussed at a meeting between union representatives and the Minister of National Economy, who has promised to redraft the controversial clause. However, this does not satisfy the trade unions which are demanding that its complete withdrawal.

According to press reports, the Government's senior economic advisors foresee a forceful, large-scale clash with the trade unions.

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