Greek employers' proposals cause tension in tourism sector
In November 1997, organisations representing Greece's hotel sector employers submitted their views on the country's new tripartite "Confidence Pact". The employers' calls for greater flexibility have met with opposition from trade unions.
On 13 November 1997, Greece's hotel employers submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Minister of Labour and chair of the social dialogue committee, setting out their observations on the tripartite Confidence pact between government and social partners on the way to the year 2000 (GR9711138F) signed on 10 November. The text, signed by the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels (XEE) and the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX), aroused strong opposition from the employees' side, since it touches on questions which for a number of years have been the subject of a labour dispute between the sector's employees and employers.
XEE and POX have proposed a series of measures designed to promote consensus in labour relations and the social protection of vulnerable groups in the population, and to enhance the competitiveness of the Greek hotel industry by means of labour flexibility.
The employers have proposed the following measures on flexibility:
- introduction of flexible working time, in the context of a fixed number of hours to be worked per week. The working day would vary freely between five and 10 hours, in a maximum of two shifts, with no other special time restrictions, depending on the needs of the enterprise;
- introduction of "employee-sharing". Permission is requested for employees to work simultaneously for several establishments of the same kind in the same area. For example, specialised staff such as maintenance workers, gardeners, animators and accountants could work simultaneously for two, three or more hotel units, according to size, and be insured by the establishments jointly. According to XEE and POX, this measure would significantly underpin the modernisation of the sector's small and medium-sized units, as it would allow them to employ highly specialised staff, even in situations where their size prevents this at present; and
- introduction of part-time work and fixed-term contracts. POX and XEE say that tourism activity, with its seasonal peaks, is ideal by its very nature for such forms of employment. For this reason, the part-time and fixed-term contract quota for the sector should be one of the highest. Specifically, they recommend a quota that would fluctuate around 25% of employees during the peak season.
The two organisations also propose measures relating to the social protection of the unemployed and vulnerable social groups, mainly regarding recruitment incentives. The principal ones are the following:
- exempting enterprises from 50% of social insurance contributions for the first two years after hiring a long-term unemployed person;
- enabling young people under 25 to work for a period of two to three years at wages lower than those laid down by the National General Collective Agreement. This could be characterised as time spent in practical training in a specialisation or in apprenticeship;
- permitting special limited-duration work contracts which would provide for increased hourly wages without requiring payment of insurance contributions; and
- reducing by one-third the pay of seasonal workers over 55 employed in the tourism industry and providing coverage for them under the special fund of the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (LAEK). POX points out that the nature of hotel work does not favour the employment of such individuals, but recognises the social necessity of their remaining in their jobs.
According to the Panhellenic Federation of Catering Workers and Employees in Tourism (POEE-YTE), the rapid development of tourism in recent years has been accompanied by an exacerbation of workers' problems, the main ones being the payment of wages lower than those provided for in collective agreements, uninsured work, non-application of labour legislation, increased pace of work and flexible forms of employment. The Federation points out that the measures proposed by XEE and POX are principally aimed at reducing the cost of labour, and that their immediate result will be the further worsening of the above problems.
POEE-YTE's observations may be summarised as follows.
- The employers' demand to introduce flexible working hours is aimed at introducing and enshrining in law the three-shift working day already being implemented by many establishments. This is in conflict with labour legislation which stipulates that there should be an interval of at least five hours between two four-hour shifts. POEE-YTE is demanding the adoption of the uninterrupted working day, a measure that it claims will help create new jobs and enhance employees' quality of life as well as the quality of the labour supply in tourism.
- The federation rejects the proposal to introduce employee-sharing, and stresses the importance for workers to provide services to a single enterprise, and enjoy all the rights ensuing from the employed labour relationship. It also points out that the change of environment and division of working time between more than one job exert a negative influence on a employee's output and quality of life.
- As far as part-time employment is concerned, the federation underlines its position on guaranteeing secure, full-time jobs. The federation's position is directed mainly at hotels in operation 24 hours a day, which represent approximately 29% of the sector and have very few special requirements. Given that the sector is structured on a seasonal basis (over 80% of the workforce are employed seasonally), the federation will hold out against the introduction of part-time work, at a time when employees are already burdened with all the problems and insecurity engendered by the seasonality of the industry. According to the federation, the employers' proposal is aimed at reducing the cost of labour and restricting workers' rights. Nevertheless, it recognises that a small percentage (2%) of employees with contracts of indeterminate duration should be employed part-time to meet the needs of the sector.
- POEE-YTE stresses that employers' social security contributions are already quite low: 10% of pay on mainland Greece and 20% on the Greek islands, and that a further reduction would lead to a reduction in benefits from the insurance funds to the workers at a time when the insurance funds show severe deficits. It also points out that in recent years the sector's employers have been given additional incentives and privileges (settlement of loans and special arrangements) targeted at developing Greece's tourism.
- The federation rejects the employers' proposal on employing young people under the age of 25, stating that it is unacceptable when advertisements to recruit regular staff in the sector already show preference for young people under 30. It adds that there are many students at private and state tourism vocational schools who, as part of their on-the-job training, are hired in regular jobs and do regular work, but are paid as trainees. According to POEE-YTE, the measure the employers are proposing aims at instituting a regime whereby regular workers will be paid lower wages than those provided for under the terms of the National General Collective Agreement, on the pretext that they are in on-the-job specialised training or in an apprenticeship.
- According to the federation, special fixed-duration contracts refer to the "extra" one-day contract and abuse of the regulation contained in the collective agreement, which allows for employment of this type only for waiters in the event of unplanned receptions, so that fixed needs as a whole are covered through one-day contracts, without the employees' rights that ensue from the employed labour relationship for a definite or indefinite period.
- Finally, POEE-YTE refused to comment in detail on the proposal regarding employees aged over 55, stressing that such a measure is extremely "ageist" and demonstrates employers' social ruthlessness, despite their desire to show social sensitivity.
Tourism is an extremely important sector of the Greek economy representing a large share of the Gross Domestic Product, employment and current account balance. Its rapid growth began in the early 1970s and continued unabated for 20 years. However, during the 1990s, due to the revaluation of the drachma and intense competition from other Mediterranean countries, the Greek tourism sector has been facing serious problems, which must be solved in order for it to continue on its upward course.
The proposals of the employers' side are an attempt to deal with these problems through increased flexibility of the workforce and a transformation of labour relations, so that enterprises can achieve a further reduction in the cost of labour.
The tourism sector's trade union has answered by rejecting these reforms on two grounds:
- the changes proposed by the employers will aggravate the situation of the workers and have an unfavourable impact on the volume of employment; and
- they provide only a short-term solution to the problems of the sector.
These are problems arising primarily from the quality of services offered, which, in the context of the new international competitive environment, is regarded as being low and not susceptible to being improved by the measures proposed by the employers. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE)