Impact of the working time directive on collective bargaining in the road transport sector — Greece

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 18 Δεκέμβριος 2007



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Community Directive 2002/15/EC has been incorporated in the Greek legal system. The Directive was transposed into Greek legislation by means of Presidential Decree 167/22-8-06. However, the individual provisions of the Directive have not been implemented, since the social partners in the sector have achieved more favourable working conditions through collective bargaining and the existing collective agreements. The Presidential Decree mentions the implementation of provisions more favourable than those of the Community Directive, when such provisions have been achieved through collective bargaining. The basic problem that arises is failure to implement the provisions due to inadequate monitoring. As a result the law is violated, resulting in deterioration in working conditions, along with the risks that this entails for the community at large (e.g. road safety issues).

1. Details of the road transport sector in Greece

In Greece around 38,000 people are employed in the road transport sector.

Around 80% are members of a union. The road transport sector in Greece includes six main categories of workers: first, drivers of all types of trucks; second, drivers who work in open-ended relationships for public utilities and services; third, employee drivers of inter-city (KTEL) buses; fourth, taxi drivers; fifth, tourist bus drivers and sixth, drivers who work in the public sector at large, for state-law entities, under open-ended employment contracts. Self-employed owner/drivers and owners of means of transport are included in the employer side, where they have their own separate organisations.

Workers in the sector are organised in 110 primary unions covering all the above-mentioned categories. Together they form a second-level federation, the Federation of Transport Unions of Greece (OSME); established in 1933, it is one of Greece’s oldest federations. Provision is made in OSME for representation on its executive council of drivers in all categories and sectors.

The employer side consists of state-controlled administrations (e.g. urban buses), as well as private individuals, legal or natural persons. The employers have no single overall industry-wide federation, but their associations are members of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV). Apart from SEV, the main employer organisations in the transport sector are the General Confederation of Greek Drivers and the Panhellenic Federation of Commercial Transport Unions, to which the major part of transports belong.

2. Collective Bargaining in the road transport sector

The social partners in the sector sign five annual collective labour agreements for five different branches, which regulate terms of pay and working hours. They are national occupation-level agreements. One covers KTEL workers of all occupations all over the country. The second covers truck drivers of all categories. The third covers tourist bus drivers nationwide. The fourth covers taxi drivers, and the fifth drivers who work in the public sector at large, for state-law entities, under open-ended employment contracts, which means that the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA) rather than the public servants’ insurance fund insures them. The issues resolved by collective bargaining are mainly pay issues, since workers in the sector are generally low paid, as well as issues involving working conditions. In all collective agreements affecting the sector efforts are made to adjust workers’ pay. Thus in 2007 for example, in the four collective agreements that have been signed so far (the one for tourist bus drivers remains to be signed) workers pay increases range from 5.5% to 6%.

As for non-pay issues regulated by collective bargaining, efforts are being made to include a provision in the agreements for the engagement of works doctors in the areas where a large number of employee drivers work.

It has been agreed that the working day will be an eight-hour one and that pay will be set on the basis thereof. Given the special conditions and working hours characteristic of the sector, the working day can be as long as 13 hours and the additional hours calculated as overtime. Still, there have been complaints that the various monitoring mechanisms such as the Corps of Labour Inspectors (SEPE) fail to effectively monitor working conditions and thus working hours are violated. Furthermore, it is acknowledged that drivers, in their efforts to meet employers’ needs, are partly responsible for the violation of their working conditions in order to achieve faster result with less cost.. Monitoring mainly involves payment of contributions, whereas organised controls of drivers and vehicles by state-run units are carried out only in Attica and Thessaloniki. In the rest of the country the state monitoring units are inactive, with serious consequences, including poor road safety (sadly, Greece is near the top of the list in the European Union in road accidents). The monitoring units are composed of public employees from the Ministries of Labour and Transport, along traffic police employees. When the law specifying the composition of the units was before Parliament last year, there was a demand from workers and employers in the sector that they also include one worker representative and one employer representative, but this was not acceptable to the government, which argued that adding two members to each unit would entail too great an expense, since unit members are paid an extra emolument for their work. Employers and workers in the sector agreed that their representatives on the units would refuse the extra emolument. Their role on the units would involve certain technical advice to the other unit members and to the drivers undergoing checks, without ruling out the rationale of the most favourable arrangements for the drivers being checked.

The collective agreements also regulate breaks and rest time for drivers.

3. Incorporation of the Community Directive

Presidential Decree 167/2006 incorporated the Community Directive in Greek legislation. However, the social actors in the sector are under the impression that since it sets minimum limits, which have already been exceeded in Greece, the Community Directive has not been implementated in Greece, because the issues it regulates have been resolved by collective agreement for around 20 years now. In parallel, the workers’ union representatives have seen the implementation of the directive as an attempt from the employers to set more adverse limits in respect of drivers’ conditions and working time, because terms and conditions in Greece are already more favourable than those set out in the directive. For the unions, compliance with the terms of the directive would mean a deterioration of industrial relations; this is why they are opposed to any effort to introduce the more unfavourable terms of the directive. For the unions, if working conditions deteriorate in accordance with the provisions of the Community Directive, account must be taken of the fact that in Greece pay is much lower than European averages. According to their thinking, therefore, if working conditions are adjusted to those provided for in the directive, the same should be done with pay.

Presidential Decree 167/2006 incorporates the Community Directive in Greek legislation, but to date it has not been put into effect, because it makes to mention of what has been achieved through collective agreements.

4. Specific issues

The sector’s main problems are failure to enforce working hours, due to an inability on the part of the monitoring services to carry out checks. This inability is partly due to the SEPE and other inspectors’ lack of necessary technical expertise concerning the characteristics of vehicles and driving (e.g. speed check, driving and break time checks, etc.). Nor is any provision made when carrying out checks for taking drivers’ logbooks into account, where the necessary times for driving and rest are set out in detail, along with remarks on the technical condition of the driver’s vehicle, etc. during a specific itinerary. The Ministry of Employment has stated that there must be a logbook in all vehicles, but the services of the Ministry of Public Order, such as the traffic police, do not take it into consideration when carrying out checks, unless there has been a complaint that driving time limits have been exceeded. In practice this would be very difficult, since it would be in no one’s interest to file a complaint. Thus the state bodies cannot agree on how to check working time, with dire consequences for road safety.

A third issue is the condition of commercial vehicles, where despite the renewal of the fleet (tourist buses, inter-city buses, taxis, etc.) via tax breaks on the occasion of the 2004 Olympic Games, many of Greece’s commercial vehicles are 30 years old. The social partners in the sector are demanding that the programme of subsidies and tax breaks be continued with a view to renewing the vehicles.

Self-employed drivers, who own their whole vehicle or part of it, have set up a special union, the Panhellenic Union of Commercial Road Transports, which is part of the employer side.

The Greek state is taking a legislative initiative to orient itself to the possibility that employee drivers may change to being self-employed, i.e. owners of their vehicles, which they rent. Such a development has met with opposition from the workers’ unions, because instead of bringing about a substantial increase in drivers’ monetary benefits it will be detrimental to their insurance coverage. They will no longer be considered to be employee drivers performing an arduous and unhealthy occupation, as has been the case for employee drivers up to now. As a result they will need additional years of work in order to establish the right to a pension. The workers’ unions in the sector have expressed their opposition to such a prospect and have already begun to hold strikes. It could be argued that in the scheme described above a worker cannot be changed into a self-employed person without his/her consent, and therefore there is no reason for workers to voice their opposition. However, the workers’ representatives feel that this legislative initiative could prompt the employers’ side (e.g. companies owning large fleets of vehicles) to urge the workers to accept the new scheme, since for the employers this would mean financial relief (for instance, the self-employed drivers would be responsible for maintaining the vehicles) and benefits accruing from workers not being classified as performing arduous and unhealthy occupations.

As concerns the question of drivers of international and transborder transport vehicles, the law in Greece stipulates that drivers entering Greek territory are subject to Greek legislation. Greek drivers moving persons and services in other countries are subject to the regulations of Greek collective agreements as long as they are on Greek territory; when they are abroad the Community Working Time Directive, etc. apply to them, but when they return to Greece they enjoy benefits in addition to those provided for by the Greek collective agreements (e.g. extra rest hours/days).

The unions in the sector have raised the question of uninsured work, a problem that has been exacerbated by drivers brought in from the Balkan countries, where pay levels are much lower. The unions also oppose the legislative initiative taken by the Greek government, that is, conversion of the professional licenses of drivers from Bulgaria into Greek ones, without, the unions say, really examining them. Similar developments, the unions believe, have taken place primarily to drive down Greek drivers’ wages.

5. National Centre Commentary

In conclusion it could be said that the collective agreements achieved have exceeded the standards set by the Community Directive. In their everyday application, however, these agreements present problems due to the inability of the supervisory bodies to carry out checks, resulting in longer working hours for workers in the sector. This should be taken seriously into account, because it also affects road safety. The employment status of road transport workers and road safety in Greek territory appear to also have been adversely affected by the recent legislative initiatives of the Greek government to put professional licences from third countries on an equal standing with Greek ones without first carrying out the necessary examinations, and by the conditions under which it is being attempted to change employee drivers into self-employed drivers. Finally, the phenomenon of uninsured work, which is becoming more widespread as drivers from Balkan countries enter the sector, should not be overlooked, in the light of the worsening employment relationships of workers in the sector.

So whereas social dialogue has achieved important results in the industrial relations of workers in the transport sector, and as a result the Greek legal system offers more favourable provisions than the Community Directive, specific practices, such as the inability to monitor the implementation of collective agreements and government initiatives, detract from the value of the collective agreements.

(Stathis Tikos, INE/GSEE)

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