Greece: New labour law leads to revival of social dialogue

The government has passed a labour law aimed at strengthening workers’ rights, while staying within the framework of individual and collective labour relations set for the country when it entered the Financial Stability Mechanism. The law has had a mixed reception, though it has led to a revival of social dialogue.

General framework

In September 2017, the Greek parliament passed Labour Law No. 4488, ‘Public pension arrangements and other social insurance provisions, strengthening worker protection, rights of people with disabilities and other provisions’, which was proposed by the Ministry of Labour. According to the government, the law is an attempt to benefit workers within the strictures set by the international lenders, without compromising the country’s commitments to make reforms as part of its accession to the Financial Stability Mechanism.

This has prompted a revival of social dialogue, as the national-level social partners hastened to express their views and make recommendations before parliament voted on the law. The social partners’ suggestions are of particular interest not only because they go into considerable detail on individual issues, but also because they contain more general policy proposals for labour market reforms which they believe are necessary for the country to emerge from the crisis and to return to growth.

Overview of new law

The main objective of Law 4488/2017, according to its explanatory memorandum, is to strengthen the rights of workers and enable people with disabilities to participate in the social, economic and political life of the country.

The first section of the law includes arrangements for public sector pensioners. It provides for rules to apply uniformly to all insured workers in the public sector, as stated in the explanatory memorandum, and ‘to rescind the over-regulation of the past, which has led to the creation of deep social inequality’.

The second and third sections of the law include arrangements for private sector employees. These are divided into four categories.

The fourth section of the law establishes a general framework of arrangements in applying the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. According to the explanatory memorandum, the purpose of this section is to remove the obstacles to full and equal participation of people with disabilities in the social, economic and political life of the country.

Undeclared work

The law requires all employers to give notice of any changes they are planning in working hours or in the organisation of employees’ working time, as well as overtime. In construction work and technical projects, companies have to keep an electronic record  of the personnel employed on a daily basis. The requirements are intended to help labour inspectors detect undeclared work.

Labour-related cases

The law provides for labour-related cases to be sped up, with the cost of hearing them reduced. Deadlines for hearing disputes on invalid dismissals and unpaid salaries, and the issuing of court rulings are to be shortened. The aim is for the process, from submission of the relevant application to the issuing of the ruling, to be completed within 90–120 days. In addition, the court fees for labour disputes are being reduced.

Work–life balance

Maternity leave and special provisions for the protection of motherhood are extended to women with a child born through a surrogate mother. Protection against the dismissal of mothers is extended to women who have a child by adoption or one born by a surrogate mother. Special parental leave for parents with children suffering from a severe disease is extended to parents (natural, adoptive or foster) of a child suffering from severe mental disabilities, Down’s syndrome or autism.

Penalties

Penalties imposed on employers are to be increased for violations of labour law, infringements posing a risk to the health and safety of workers, and breaches of obligations to declare all their employees.

Employer reactions

The Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), the nationwide organisation representing businesses in Greece, criticised the draft law, In a memorandum issued on 31 August 2017, SEV argued that the bill included arrangements of a technical nature and of secondary importance, which would not ensure the smooth functioning of the labour market and would not open up a window for discussion on the future of work.

On undeclared work, SEV considers that the provisions being introduced are fragmentary, and stresses that the fight against undeclared work requires the participation and coordination of all stakeholders. According to SEV, the roadmap which was authorised on a tripartite level, and which emerged from a study of undeclared work in Greece by technical experts from the ILO should be implemented systematically. SEV says this would provide for a series of actions and initiatives that are not limited to the imposition of administrative penalties in the event of non-compliance by businesses. Also, as a general framework, SEV refers to the ILO initiative, The Future of Work, and points out that the issues raised as part of this initiative should be on the agenda of the Ministry of Labour and at the heart of social dialogue, with the aim of an open and exports-oriented Greek economy, based largely on internationally traded goods and services.

Trade union reactions

During the public consultation stage, the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) submitted four memoranda to the Ministry of Labour. GSEE did not limit itself to the issues raised by the vote on Law 4488/2017, but touched on a whole range of current issues at the heart of the government’s discussions with international lenders.

In particular, it called for legislative measures that would be a ‘minimum starting point for the practical restoration of labour protection’, and in particular for measures on collective bargaining, such as:

  • reinstating the possibility of extending sector-level collective employment agreements;
  • reinstating the favourability principle (removing the ability of associations of persons signing collective employment agreements);
  • reinstating the adjustment of the minimum wage through the national general collective employment agreement;
  • prohibiting lock-outs;
  • collective redundancies (abolishing provisions that increase the limits above which redundancies are considered collective);
  • redundancy payments;
  • new forms of employment (stopping an employer unilaterally imposing job rotation);
  • working time (reinstating the five-day working week in shops and prohibiting employers from splitting working days in shops which are open all day);
  • auditing mechanisms.

In general, GSEE’s proposals revolve around abolishing the arrangements provided for in the framework, and returning the institutional framework to the arrangements that applied before the crisis and before Greece was admitted to the Financial Stability Mechanism.

Commentary

Based on the proposals and positions of SEV and GSEE, there are no clear signs of convergence between the two sides, as it appears that SEV is oriented towards reform, while GSEE appears to be oriented towards the return of the arrangements that applied before the crisis, and before the reforms to the institutional framework of labour relations implemented by the Greek government in the framework of the country's accession to the Financial Stability Mechanism. However, the revival of the social dialogue sparked by the new law is a positive and promising sign, given that social dialogue has been at a standstill in recent years due to the few initiatives developed as part of the government’s successive reforms.

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