Greece: 2016 National General Collective Labour Agreement signed

On 31 March 2016, the Greek national level social partners signed a new National General Collective Labour Agreement. The agreement adopts the European framework agreement on inclusive labour markets and contains general statements of intent about actions to be taken regarding the refugee crisis and unemployment. It does not refer to the minimum wage.

A new National General Collective Labour Agreement (EGSSE) has been signed by social partners in Greece for 2016, although the agreement does not refer to the country’s national minimum wage, as was the case until 2012. Since 2012, the national minimum wage has been set by the government and the EGSSE is limited to institutional arrangements. The new EGSSE is limited in both content and application as the social partners have not, as yet, established effective cooperation in institutional labour market issues.

Economic and industrial relations background

The negotiation and signing of the 2016 EGSSE took place in a difficult environment. The economic crisis in Greece continues, and the government and the Troika (the EC, ECB and IMF) have been negotiating on matters concerning the labour market without involving the social partners.

In the field of industrial relations and working life conditions, the key issues under discussion between January and March 2016 were the reform of the social security/taxation system and the Troika’s demands that pensions should be further reduced. The country has been in the grip of strikes and constant demonstrations, with the great majority of productive forces in the private and public sector; for example, farmers, scientists, local government employees, and workers in ports and shops opposing the proposed changes.

The changing role of EGSSEs since Greece joined the ESM

Until recently, the national minimum wage was negotiated annually between the social partners and set by the EGSSE. However, in accordance with the new laws introduced by the Memoranda of Understanding signed with the Troika after Greece joined the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to tackle the economic crisis, the Greek government has taken over the power to set the minimum wage without agreement from the social partners.

The 2010 EGSSE, which ended on 31 December 2012, set the minimum monthly wage at €751.39 gross. This applied to all workers, as laid down in previous legislation. In February 2012, using their new powers, ministers reduced the minimum wage by 22% to €585.08 gross, and by 32% to €510.95 gross for those under 25 years of age.

The EGSSEs signed since then have included institutional arrangements that are more ‘declarations of intent’ about cooperation on labour market issues, such as how to tackle unemployment, undeclared work and discrimination. However, as yet, no concrete measures have been recommended and no actions have been implemented. The social partners in Greece are not accustomed to searching for joint strategies and implementing actions on institutional labour market issues because, until recently, they have negotiated in an adversarial atmosphere, primarily over wage-related issues. Institutional matters and labour market policies were a matter of government policy in which the social partners had a purely advisory role.

Greece has, therefore, yet to see detailed joint proposals, actions or strategic plans concerning crucial labour market issues, nor does there appear to have been any substantive efforts in this direction following the change in the law, which restricts the social partners to negotiating over institutional issues.

The EGSSE, 2016

The new EGSSE was signed on 31 March 2016 by all the national social partners, with employer representation by the following bodies:

  • Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV);
  • Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE);
  • Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ESEE);
  • Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE).

Employees were represented by the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE).

The 2016 EGSSE runs from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2016. It states that the parties:

  • ensure the continuation of institutional conditions established by previous EGSSEs and to reaffirm that, in the case of the provisions on intervention in the EGSSE being lifted, they will begin direct negotiations to determine the pay terms of the agreement – including the minimum wage;
  • agree that ‘after exploring the possibility of cooperating with the International Labour Organisation, they will take the necessary steps for the implementation of actions to help tackle the refugee immigration problem’;
  • have decided on the incorporation into Greek law of the European framework agreement on inclusive labour markets, signed on 25 March 2010 by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Confederation of European Business (BUSINESSEUROPE), the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP);
  • agree to develop an action plan to assess obstacles and implement actions to promote active inclusion in the labour market; for example, looking at issues such as access and reintegration.

Commentary

Although the continuation of collective bargaining at national level is, in itself, particularly valuable in the present situation where social dialogue is otherwise non-existent, there appears to be a long way to go until the role of the social partners in regulating labour relations is reclaimed.

Greece’s accession to the ESM allowed the country to remain in the markets, but it also led to the rapid reform of the institutional framework of labour relations, without the participation of the social partners. Employer and employee organisations are thus facing the challenge of redefining their role in a difficult environment, both for waged labour and for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises. The EGSSE could be a tool for social partners to return to their role as regulators of the labour market from a new position. However, it appears that the attitude of the social partners remains hesitant and that there is no climate of cooperation for dynamic intervention in the field of labour market regulation.

Apart from the adoption of the European framework agreement on inclusive labour markets, the 2016 EGSSE merely includes announcements of intentions to act on pressing issues, without specific recommendations or a particular plan for social dialogue on any of the issues. Nonetheless, the signing of the EGSSE is an important event as it is one of the few – if not the only – joint intervention by the social partners.

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