Trends in part-time work in Greece

Part-time work has slightly increased in Greece over recent years. However, in comparison with other EU countries, Greece is still amongst the member states with the lowest percentage of part-time workers - almost entirely due to the general lack of interest in it expressed by both employers and employees. However, the Government has now suggested expanding part-time work and easing restrictions on its use.

Part-time work is an expression of the flexible organisation of working time. Although it is often quoted as a "new" form of employment, its practice has a long history in Greece. However, its legal framework has been moulded by the special provisions of the so-called Law on Development of 1990 (Law 1892/1990, articles 37-9), which regulated for the first time the rights of workers employed on part-time contracts.

The current situation

Over recent years the incidence of part-time work has slightly increased as part of the "new" recruitment policies adopted by companies. Nevertheless, in comparison with other EU countries, Greece is amongst those with the lowest percentages of the working population in part-time work. Figures reveal that overall level of part-time work in Greece stands at around 4.8% of all employment, whilst the EU average is around 15.5%. In sectoral terms, agriculture comes top with 12%, followed by services with 4.7% (mainly in credit-insurance companies and travel agencies with 4%) and industry with 2.7% (mainly in leather, with 5%). These data do not, however, reflect the precise extent of part-time work, on account of the "underground" economy (which accounts for around 35% of GNP) and illegal employment.

According to a recent survey carried out by the Institute of Labour (INE-GSEE) on the use of flexible forms of work in 44 unionised businesses with over 120 employees operating in Athens and the surrounding district, less than 10% of the sample of contracts of indefinite duration were for part-time work (the unions indicated 9.6% and the employers 9.1%). In the case of fixed-term contracts, the percentages indicated were 13.5% and 15.9% respectively, with small fluctuations for different sectors of the economy. These data confirm the trend towards part-time work which has been observed over recent years, particularly when observations are limited to large enterprises in the Athens area. On the other hand, the part-time work option had been ruled out by a large number of enterprises representing 75% of the sample. This is significant, bearing in mind that the Greek economy is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises: around 98.5% of enterprises in the private sector employ 20 employees or fewer, and these are the ones that show the strongest preferences for flexible forms of work .

Concern over effects of part-time work

An interesting approach adopted by the survey was to examine the positive and negative effects of part-time work on both the enterprises and employees involved, through their unions, according to their views as expressed in the sample. The views of the two sides were not, however, based on the implementation of the 1990 law since, seven years after its introduction, the situation in relation to the use and perception of part-time work is almost the same as before its legal regulation. The data reveal that both employers and employees alike agree that part-time work contributes to the fulfilment of the needs of the market and the saving of resources on the part of the enterprises involved. They also agree that it reduces enterprise performance since part-timers tend to lack skills and so find it quite difficult to adjust to the pace of working life required by the enterprise. Both sides believe that part-time work is an alternative solution to the problem of unemployment or a means of finding a second job, and so it is easily adjustable to personal and family needs.

However, both sides stress that part-time employees have lower pay and worse social security coverage and may suffer from serious psychological problems on account of being "second-class" wage earners, while the unions add that part-time work has a negative impact on trade union activity.

In the light of the above discussion, it could be said that the main motive for employees in choosing part-time work is the fear of long-term unemployment. Meanwhile, as far as employers are concerned, the positive results of part-time work in enterprises explain their interest in agreeing to its extension over recent years. However, a section amongst the employers, especially the more dynamic ones, recognises that the long-term use of part-time work, leaving aside its positive effects (mainly on the reduction of labour costs), results in the reduction of competitiveness since it is directly connected to factors which have a negative impact on productivity, such as the lack of skills. Bearing in mind the negative effects of part-time work on enterprises, as well as on the employees concerned, it is easy to explain its limited use in Greece and the large percentage of part-time employees (53%) who claim that it was forced on them, compared with the corresponding EU average percentage of 30%.

Position of employers and unions - changes proposed

The above views are largely shared by both employers and trade unions.

The main employers' organisations in Greece support the expansion of part-time work, although there are no detailed data on their official positions. On the other hand, trade unions, and principally the GSEE confederation, oppose this alternative, advocating instead a model of full-time employment. However, in this context and since part-time work is a reality, trade unions back the improvement of the legal framework covering part-time work in order to ensure the rights of employees and to prevent the undermining of full-time work. Specifically, they have made the following proposals:

  • part-time workers should make up a maximum of 15% of the workforce at enterprise level;
  • a minimum part-time working week of 20 hours and a maximum working week of 32 hours;
  • the pay for part-time work to be proportional to weekly contractual working hours, with an hourly pay increment of 25% decreasing progressively as hours worked approach those laid down under a full-time contract (a proposal designed to prevent part-timers from being brought in merely to deal with short bursts of concentrated work);
  • the cost of insurance contributions to be shared between employers and employees and to be proportional to the pay for part-time work with a minimum floor set by the national minimum wage (the minimum wage fixed by the annual National General Collective Agreements); and
  • the right of part-time workers to participate in training and education as well as in trade union activity.

Commentary

Part-time work in Greece is not widespread. The most plausible explanation is that for employees it is an alternative adopted out of fear of long-term unemployment, whilst employers do not show a strong preference for it for the reasons outlined above. Recently, however, a fierce debate has begun on the matter, since it has been included in the 19 topics suggested by the Government as themes for the process of tripartite social dialogue due to start on 14 May (GR9704112N).The Government has proposed the expansion of part-time work and the easing of restrictions on its use. The trade unions have opposed this expansion and propose the changes mentioned above. Further steps towards its greater use will no doubt depend to some extent on the results of the current dialogue. (Eva Soumeli, INE-GSEE)

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