Greece: Parties commit to national social dialogue following 2017 National General Collective Employment Agreement

The 2017 National General Collective Employment Agreement covers important institutional issues, such as the fight against undeclared work and discrimination, and health and safety at work, in an attempt to revive national social dialogue following the financial crisis of 2008 and in the context of the international loan mechanism of the Greek economy.

Regulation of private sector wage levels before 2010

The National General Collective Employment Agreement (EGSSE) has historically been central to the Greek system of collective bargaining and wage-setting for the country’s entire private sector. The EGSSE was first signed in 1975 and is renewed every one or two years through collective bargaining between the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), which represents private sector employees, and the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), the National Confederation of Greek Trade (ESEE) and the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE), representing the country’s private sector employers. The last agreement was renewed in 2016.

Until 2010, the main role of the EGSSE was to set the national minimum basic salary (for white-collar workers) and the national minimum basic wage (for blue-collar workers). The minimum wage set under the EGSSE was legally binding for all employers and employees in the country’s private sector, even if they were not members of the employer and union organisations that had made the agreement. The legally valid minimum salary/wage set by the EGSSE and the ‘favourability principle’ (according to which salaries based on sectoral, company-level and individual contracts of employment could never be lower than the minimum salary or wage applying under the EGSSE in force) meant that for many years the EGSSE was a regulator of private sector wage levels throughout Greece.

Intervention in collective autonomy and minimum wage-setting after 2010

Following the 2008 economic crisis, the country entered into an international loan mechanism with a series of reform measures agreed between the Greek government and the country’s lenders in order to improve the competitiveness of the economy. These included:

  • reducing the minimum wage agreed under the existing EGSSE
  • prohibiting any increase in the minimum wage by a collective employment agreement while the country remained in the international loan mechanism
  • introducing a new legislative framework for the government to set the minimum wage after the country exits the international loan mechanism, taking into account the state of the national economy.

GSEE alleged in complaints filed in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with the ILO that the measures significantly affected workers’ fundamental rights to free collective bargaining, as well as the right to set uniformly binding minimum standards of decent work through national general collective agreements. The government argued, however, that

the fiscal restrictions and the flexibility of industrial relations were considered as necessary in order to support the Greek economy as well as the sustainability and competitiveness of enterprises, objectives which are pursued by taking measures for the balanced safeguarding of workers’ rights as well.

In its response, the ILO Committee recommended that the government promote and strengthen the institutional framework for collective bargaining and social dialogue.

Despite the great crisis of collective bargaining in Greece, the 2017 EGSSE negotiations at national level continued in an attempt by the social partners to keep social dialogue alive and redefine their role in the new environment.

The 2017 EGSSE was signed by the GSEE on behalf of employees and by SEV, GSEVEE, ESEE and SETE on behalf of employers in March 2017. All parties:

  • confirmed their joint commitment to combating undeclared work using the recommendations of the ILO’s 2016 Diagnostic report on undeclared work in Greece and its Roadmap for undeclared work 2016–2019
  • recognised the need to work towards the effective combating of racism, xenophobia and intolerance in the workplace
  • approved the text of the National Strategy on Health and Safety at Work from the Hellenic Institute for Health and Safety at Work (ELINYAE), and agreed to submit it jointly to the government for its adoption
  • agreed that if any of the legal restrictions on the content of the 2010, 2011 or 2012 EGSSEs are lifted during the course of the present EGSSE, then they would begin negotiations to determine the pay terms of the EGSSE.

National Strategy on health and safety at work 2016–2020

The text of the National Strategy on Health and Safety at Work has been appended to the 2017 EGSSE. The strategy sets out steps for promoting occupational health and safety (OSH) and lays down specific actions for each step, including:

  • improving the institutions and infrastructures of the National System of Occupational Health and Safety (National OSH System);
  • improving the legislative framework for OSH;
  • strengthening the implementation of OSH legislation;
  • incorporating OSH into education and vocational training
  • enhancing the role of the social partners and worker participation
  • improving and organising the system for recording occupational ill health
  • incorporating new EU Directives into national law and ratifying International Labour Conventions on OSH
  • strengthening the implementation of legislation in the public sector
  • developing partnerships with organisations such as EU-OSHA, Eurofound, the Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee and ILO.

Commentary

The social partners seem to be turning their attention to institutional issues, following the removal of the minimum salary and wage from the remit of the EGSSE in the framework of the international loan mechanism. Nevertheless, the social partners, especially GSEE, state that they want the legislative framework under which the national minimum wage is set by the government to change back to being under the remit of the EGSSE. At the same time, they are making significant efforts to keep alive and redefine the EGSSE as an institution. The 2017 EGSSE, which was signed as part of this effort, covers important issues such as undeclared work, discrimination and health and safety.

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