Social partners present proposals on 1999 NAP
In May 1999, in response to a request from the Greek government, representatives of trade unions and employers' organisations lodged their proposals for the 1999 National Action Plan (NAP) on employment to implement the EU Employment Guidelines. Here we focus on the proposals aimed at encouraging the adaptability of businesses and their employees.
Greece, like all EU Member States, has been obliged since 1998 to draw up an annual National Action Plan (NAP) on employment (EU9805107N) based on the EU's Employment Guidelines. Member States are to submit NAPs for 1999 during summer 1999, analysing implementation of the 1998 Plans () and describing the policy adjustments made to incorporate the changes introduced by the 1999 Employment Guidelines (EU9810130F). In May, at the request of the government, both the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) and the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), as official representatives of a large proportion of employers and workers, submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security integrated proposals regarding all the guidelines in Greece's 1999 NAP, which was subsequently published on 31 May (GR9906134F)
In the government's view, the active participation of the social partners, at both the planning and the implementation stages, is a necessary precondition for more effective preparation of the 1999 NAP on employment. As the EU has pointed out, the lack of such participation to date has been one of the most fundamental drawbacks of Greece's NAPs. The proposals of SEV and GSEE once again bring to the fore their important differences with regard to industrial relations. Below we outline their main points relating to the NAP's section on "encouraging adaptability of businesses and their employees".
According to SEV, in the present crucial stage that the Greek economy is going through in order to ensure competitiveness and meet the objectives for joining EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the steps being taken have not brought about the expected results for the modernisation and adaptation of labour relations to the new conditions. One example is the recent Law 2639/98 on the regulation of industrial relations (GR9808187N). Instead of forging a course towards harmonisation of industrial relations with EU conditions and of promoting the concept of flexibility combined with worker protection, the rationale of the law is said to be imbued with elements of compromise and hesitation. In general, SEV claims that no consideration whatsoever was given to appeals by the business community, to reports by the European Commission on this issue, or even to the experiences of other European countries (such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland), which are perceived to be reacting to the new conditions more courageously and more effectively.
In particular, with regard to improving the law's provisions on the organisation of working time, SEV proposes:
- the full implementation of the EU Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC), allowing the possibility of working an average of 48 hours per week over a period of four months, without the requirement for a collective agreement and with extra pay in the event that the 40-hour week is exceeded (up to an average of 48 hours per week); and
- the development of programmes for organising working time on a three- or six-monthly basis. This is seen as necessary for small and medium-sized enterprises, which should also be released from the obligation to contract agreements of a collective nature with their workers in order to introduce such arrangements.
As concerns new forms of employment (eg piecework and telework) and part-time employment, SEV proposes doing away with the extra "red tape" introduced by the new law which, in its view, makes such forms of employment difficult or even impossible to implement and is of no benefit whatsoever to workers. For the introduction of such forms of employment, SEV considers an individual written agreement between the employer and worker or the written notification to the worker which is mandatory (under Presidential Decree 156/94) to be sufficient, and as safeguarding workers fully.
SEV proposes reducing labour costs by reducing the level of social security contributions and by simplifying bureaucratic procedures which increase the operating costs of enterprises.
On collective redundancies, SEV proposes smoothing out and rationalising the scale provided by existing law and setting a new threshold beyond which redundancies are considered to be collective. In its view, this should be five persons per month for enterprises employing up to 250 people, 2% of the workforce for enterprises employing between 251 and 1,500, and 30 persons for enterprises employing over 1,500.
Finally, another SEV proposal is to reduce the rate of mandatory employment of particular groups in enterprises from its present level of 8%, with the aim of reaching the European average, and to abolish categories whose protection is no longer justified by objective conditions.
According to GSEE, adaptation to present-day standards regarding work organisation should be governed by a human-centred rationale, and not exclusively by the exigencies of market forces. The question therefore is whether employment policies and accompanying measures effectively guarantee the right to work and employment stability, and secure the necessary labour rights. GSEE also states that the legislative framework necessary for placing flexibility under control should also be created, so that flexibility is not used for undermining or violating workers' rights.
In particular, GSEE proposals include the following
- Creation of a new legislative framework for the operation of the concept of "dependent employment" in the light of the new economic and social conditions within which this concept operates. This would extend protective legislation to new categories of workers whose employment has the features of modern paid employment. A prerequisite for this is a national initiative to study and deal with the phenomenon, in keeping with similar initiatives which have emerged on the central EU level, through the creation of a committee to study the problem.
- Creation of a special operating framework for telework, which is a new form of employment in Greece, and of protection for teleworkers, in conjunction with study of the development of the phenomenon in Greece and utilisation of international experiences in this area.
- Creation of an institutional framework for special forms of flexible employment, in particular types of temporary and part-time employment, so that their implementation does not undermine the concept of full employment. In this framework, GSEE sees as necessary:
- the introduction of a maximum proportion of the workforce - 10% of the employees working full time - within any particular enterprise which can be made up of part-time workers, plus a minimum of four hours of work per day and 20 hours per week, and a 25% increase in pay for part-timers;
- the introduction of a maximum limit - one year - for fixed-term contracts, and restriction of their use to cases where emergency needs must be met; and
- creation of a protective framework for workers in instances where they are leased out, on the basis of the principle of maintaining the most favourable employment conditions for the worker.
- Creation of an institutional framework for the content of industrial relations in new sectors of activity (eg work in the social sector) on the basis of the principle of proportionate rights with other workers in paid employment.
- Maintenance and reinforcement of the role of collective bargaining and collective agreements, and in particular: preservation of the concept of a minimum guaranteed salary and wage; elimination of the possibility of eroding the content of sectoral collective agreements; and recognition of the right to bargain collectively at the level of groups of companies.
- Development of parental leave through sector- and company-level collective agreements in the framework of the relevant 1996 European-level framework agreement and Greece's 1996 National General Collective Agreement.
- Development of lifelong training through state intervention and collective agreements at sector and company level.
Finally, GSEE states that a pivotal issue in the stimulation of both employment and of work organisation in present conditions should be a policy for the organisation of working time directed at immediate reduction of the working week to 35 hours without loss of pay (GR9901110N).
This is the first time the Greek government has asked the employers and trade unions for proposals regarding the issues broached by the NAP for employment. As was to be expected, there were significant differences between the proposals of the two sides: the employers see the NAP for employment as a plan for intervention in way the labour market functions to facilitate the objectives of reducing labour costs and increasing competitiveness; in their view, this is the best way to boost employment. By contrast, the unions believe that the sought-for changes should not worsen the terms and conditions of employment, nor should they impair the institutional framework for protection of workers, because in their view no benefits arise for either of the sides if the labour market is allowed to function without controls. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE)