Government seeks to regulate illegal immigration and employment

In an attempt to resolve the problem of illegal immigration and employment in Greece, the Government has proposed a Presidential Decree. Employer and employee representatives responded in March 1997 through a statement issued by the Economic and Social Committee (OKE)

The phenomenon of illegal immigration in Greece has taken on an ever more serious dimension. According to evidence from the Ministry of Public Order the number of foreign workers without a work permit is now around 400,000, and is expected to increase still further owing to the recent crises in Albania and Bulgaria. The main countries of origin are Albania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, as well as countries in Asia and Africa. However, there are also around 30,000 additional foreign nationals who originate from EU member states, and obtain a special written permit from the Ministry of Labour.

The reasons for illegal immigration, as well as its consequences, are many and it has a significant effect on Greek society as a whole. The implications for industrial relations are particularly negative since it creates great inequalities in relation to basic employment rights, reinforces the phenomenon of "informal" or "submerged" employment and affects the competitiveness of Greek nationals in relation to foreign workers. However, this element of competitiveness should not be overemphasised, since foreign workers are primarily employed in sectors of the economy which are regarded unfavourably by Greek nationals.

Faced by such a serious problem, all the institutions involved generally accept that there is an urgent need to find effective solutions on a long-term basis. With this purpose in mind, the Government has proposed the enactment of a Presidential Decree (PD) to lay down a "procedure for the definition of the prerequisites for the legal residence and employment of aliens originating from non-EU countries".

The views of employers and unions on the proposed Presidential Decree converge, as the latest unanimous statement of the Economic and Social Committee (OKE) indicates. The plenary session of the OKE on 7 March 1997 supported the PD, stressing that it constitutes an important legislative initiative that tries to solve the problem of illegal immigration and employment through the registration of aliens without a work permit, and through the provision of a temporary employment card. According to the OKE, the PD emphasises the economic and labour dimensions of the problem by avoiding the traditional approach - which deprived aliens of social protection and threatened them with summary deportation - which was seen as repressive.

However, the OKE thinks that the draft PD contains many obscure terms and deficiencies and, amongst other items, recommends the introduction of various categories of immigrant and prerequisites for the provision of a work permit. It also points out that the temporary card should be provided for a period longer than the anticipated six months.

As far as a general assessment of the PD is concerned, the Committee believes that it does not make clear the extent to which the registration of aliens claiming legal status will take place, or how long it will last for, or whether it will restrict the entrance of new foreign nationals into Greece. It also believes that registration is not encouraged since aliens have only two months to register, incentives to do so are restricted, and there is a serious lack of information about their long-term or permanent legal status. In addition, OKE thinks that is essential to clarify whether the PD applies only to those are already living in Greece or whether it also extends to future arrivals. The Committee also suggests that anyone who lives for at least seven years in Greece should be provided with a residence permit for an indeterminate period. Finally, OKE proposes distinctions between foreign employees according to the kind of the contract of employment they have.

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