Survey examines workers' views on employment and unions

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Greek workers are in favour of the 35-hour working week, but not of current government industrial relations policy, while their main priorities include quality of life, job security and working conditions. Only a third are union members but the great majority are in favour of trade unions. These are among the main findings of a new survey of the views of workers, published in January 2001.

On 11 January 2001, the V-Project Research Consulting Institute (V-PRC) presented the key findings of a research study it has conducted for the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) on the subject of "unions and labour". The study was carried out in two waves, from 3 June to 3 July 2000 and from 7 December 2000 to 5 January 2001, among a planned sample of 2,340 individuals (wage and salary earners, employed and unemployed people) aged 18 years or over in the Athens urban conglomeration, as well as in Thessaloniki, Patra, Iraklio and Volos.

The findings of the study indicate that workers' views are at variance with the changes to employment and industrial relations regulations currently being promoted by the Ministry of Labour regarding labour relations. At the same time, workers consider quality of life, job security, working conditions and immediate implementation of the 35-hour working week to be their most important priorities. Although workers appear to have moved away from the trade union organisations, they nevertheless believe it is necessary and essential to create unions in the workplace (according to 54.5% of respondents), and also state that the trade unions are essential (85%).

The main findings of the research are set out below.

Reduction of working time

Some 49% of workers surveyed believe that government policy on working time, in terms of the changes to employment and industrial relations regulations promoted by by the Ministry of Labour (GR0012192F), is headed in the wrong direction (25.5% state that it is moving in the right direction, and another 25.6% take no position). In contrast, there is widespread agreement (72.8%) with the trade union movement's number one demand regarding reduction of the working week to 35 hours (GR9902114N).

The overwhelming majority of respondents (95%) would like to see the working week reduced to 35 hours without loss of pay, and a large percentage of workers (81.7%) is of the view that the implementation of this measure would allow new jobs to be created and unemployment to fall.

Workers and trade unions

The survey has produced significant data regarding the constant decline of the trade unions: 65.6% of workers surveyed are not members of a union (in a similar survey in 1995, 64.6% of workers did not belong to a union), whereas only 8.2% are members of a company-level union and 21.8% are members of a union in the occupation or sector to which they belong.

The main reason why workers do not join unions, according to the research, is their negative view of trade unionism (28.8%). In addition, a significant percentage states that "there is no union" in their workplace (16.1%). Additional reasons cited by workers for not joining a union are that they: are "not informed" (5.2%); "do not have time" (4.4%); or "are not interested in public affairs" (2.9%). However, 54.5% consider creation of a union "necessary" and "essential" in the immediate future and 48.4% feel that such a development would be effective, while opinion is divided on whether such a move would be "realistic/feasible" - 39.5% of employed people believe the creation of a union in their workplace is realistic/feasible, whereas 33.1% are of the opposite opinion.

Unemployed people and foreign people predominantly tend to view the creation of a union in their workplace in the immediate future as "essential" and "effective". Specifically, 65.9% of unemployed people and 76.2% of foreigners consider the creation of a union to be "essential", and 54.1% and 57.1% respectively characterise such a move as "effective".

The vast majority of respondents (84.9%) believe that workers need the unions, while only 12% believe they are not essential. The positive view of the unions is also confirmed by the fact that workers surveyed consider them to be the most effective institutions for promoting their interests (60.6%). Only 7.4% have a similar view of the political parties, and 27.1% reject both the parties and the unions.

Workers' views of GSEE are in the main positive - with 44.9% taking a positive view in December 2000, compared with 40.4% in June of that year. The percentage who "know something about the GSEE" almost doubled from 27.5% in June 2000 to 53.7% in December 2000. This is thought to be due to the two 24-hour nationwide general strikes that took place in the interim (on 10 October and 7 December), which were called by GSEE against the labour flexibility measures promoted by the Ministry of Labour (GR0012190N).

Working conditions and terms and conditions

A considerable number of respondents do not feel security in connection with their personal and occupational situation (27.4% feel only "somewhat secure" and 27.1% "not secure at all"). However, the proportion of respondents stating the opposite are also high (32.4% feel "quite secure" and 10.6% "very secure"). This is thought to be due to the dual nature of the labour market (one segment consists of skilled labour and one of unskilled labour), which to a great degree reflects the dual nature of the Greek economy and industry (one segment is modernised and another lags behind).

Average reported total working time from Monday to Friday is 42 hours, and 11 hours at weekends. By sector of employment, the longest hours were found by the survey to be worked by workers in communications/transport/storage (48 hours per week), followed by workers in mines, quarries and trade (44.3 hours), industry and handicrafts (44.1 hours), and construction (42.1 hours). In addition, 37.8% of respondents "often" work weekends, 12.8% "sometimes", 40.8% "never" and 8.6% "rarely". In effect, approximately one worker out of two works weekends. Some 76% of respondents work regular hours, 9.8% work flexible hours and 9.7% are free of any constraints on working hours.

The overwhelming majority of workers state that they work full time (89.7%). Part-time workers represent 10.3% of the sample, of whom 57.6% were unable to find a full-time job, 19.7% are students and another 19.7% chose to work part time (53.8% were young people 18-24 years of age). The findings of the study show that part-time employment is mainly encountered in restaurants and hotels (38.5%) and in education (23.1%).

Of the respondents, 39.4% feel that the interests of employers and workers are different (compared with 37.7% in 1995), and 35.7% feel them to be opposed (42.8% in 1995). Nevertheless, the dialogue between employers and workers remains, despite its perceived deterioration, is the most appropriate way to address work-related problems, according to 59.7% of the sample (compared with 64.8% in 1995), followed by 15% who feel that industrial action and government legislative interventions are most appropriate.

With regard to which priorities workers regard as most important, 29.2% of the respondents cited quality of life, 24.4% job security, and 22.8% working conditions. When asked "what developments would you like to see in the years to come with regard to your work?", 26.2% cited wage increases as the most positive, followed by improved working conditions (18%) and job security (17%).

New technologies and employment

With regard to the introduction of new technologies in production and their effects on employment, it would appear, according to the respondents, that enterprises are still being modernised. Specifically, to the question: "when did the last technological modernisation take place in the enterprise/service where you work?", 30.2% of the respondents responded "in the last year", 15.1% "in the last three years", 8.4% "in the last five years", while 11.9% stated that "no machines are used". Regarding the effects of the new technologies on employment, the responses again indicate that technological modernisation does not have a negative effect on employment, since 57.7% state that the number of people employed by the enterprise remained the same, 24.1% state that it rose and 16.7% that it fell. In addition, the majority of workers (77.3%) say that technological modernisation has brought about an improvement in working conditions, while 19% say that it "has had no effect", and only 2.9% believe that modernisation has made working conditions worse.

Commentary

The absence of trade unions in the workplace is due, apart from the reasons highlighted in the new survey, to the fact that the Greek economy is made up of a multitude of small, widely scattered enterprises. As a result, it is objectively difficult for the unions to approach and become active among workers in such enterprises. In addition, restoration of workers' confidence in the unions will depend to a great extent on the unions' ability to attract those groups of workers who still largely remain outside the organised trade union movement, such as workers in the services sector, young people, women, foreign workers and the large numbers of unemployed people and people in precarious employment. Finally, workers' opinions and concerns on issues related to the deterioration in the quality of life should be taken very seriously into consideration. This is something that should be of concern to the trade union organisations when mapping out their strategy. (Dimitris Katsoridas, INE/GSEE-ADEDY)

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