Permanent status for fixed-term workers in public sector

A ruling by the Greek Supreme Court marks the end of rolling short-term contracts for public sector workers. The judgment, by the court’s Plenary Session in April 2011, directly affects only a few hundred workers but is expected to pave the way for thousands of employees, hired before 2001, to claim permanent contracts. Unions hailed the decision as a vindication of their long battle for justice and called on the Government to enforce the judgment. The Government did not comment on the ruling.

Background

Cleaners working for OPAP S.A., the state owned gambling monopoly, had gone to the Supreme Court on 20 January 2011 to ask that their fixed-term contracts, which had been renewed every year since 1989, be converted into permanent ones.

The cleaners also requested the payment of arrears because of pay discrepancies for the years 1995–1997. The current legislation (laws 2112/1920 and 3239/1954) allows for these workers to be granted permanent contracts, and they are not subject to the constitutional restriction on tenure that was in force at the time when they were hired.

The Supreme Court judges ruled in favour of the cleaners by a majority of 26 votes to 19, despite the Instructing Commissioner’s opposition.

In 2009, the European Court of Justice ruled that Article 103, paragraph 8, of the Greek Constitution allows courts to decide the true nature of employment contracts (GR0910039I). However, the April 2011 judgment of the Greek Supreme Court’s plenary session covers, in principle, only those contract workers hired before 2001 who meet fixed and operating needs, and who appealed before the State Courts within three months of the termination of their contract.

Reactions of the social partners.

The Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) welcomed the decision, saying:

The long and persistent trade union and legal battle of the GSEE in Greece and in Europe for the vindication of contract workers was recognised by today’s judgment. With an historic decision, the country’s Supreme Court restored the prestige and independence of justice, vindicating the contract workers and exposing all those who used them as political hostages. The organised trade union movement has fought, is fighting and will continue to fight battles by all means, for all workers’ demands to be met. The government must enforce the court’s judgment and grant tenure to all contract workers who meet fixed and perpetual needs.

Spyros Papaspyros, President of the Confederation of Civil Servants (ADEDY) added:

Today’s development in the Supreme Court creates a new reality for employees who work in the public sector on repeated fixed term contracts. The employees who have been, for years, the victims of the compromises between rival political forces that took turns at government, must at last be treated in a different and fair manner.

The government did not comment on the court’s decision in order to preserve the independence of the judiciary.

Commentary

The question of the public sector’s contract workers is not only a matter of legal concern, but is a socio-political issue that highlights hiring practices in the public sector. The judgment of the Supreme Court’s Plenary Session marks the end of employment practices which do not secure fair employment conditions for contract workers.

Anda Stamati, INE/GSEE

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