Greece: Latest working life developments – Q3 2016

Negotiations between Greece and the Troika on labour market reform in the area of collective redundancies, collective action and collective bargaining and the position of the peak social partners are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Greece in the third quarter of 2016.

Crucial EU negotiations on reform

Talks on the reform of labour market institutions took place in late September between the Greek government and representatives of the Troika – the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Their objective, set out in the 2015–2018 Memorandum of Understanding of the European Stability Mechanism signed in August 2015, is to harmonise Greek legislation on collective redundancies, collective bargaining and collective action with the best practices applied internationally and especially in the EU.

In March 2016, an international Committee of Experts was set up to identify these best practices and is expected to submit its findings soon. ILO and other stakeholders will be invited to comment on them. Based on the Committee’s findings and the stakeholders’ contributions, further negotiations on labour reforms will follow between the Greek government and representatives of the Troika.

Central social partners issue common position

The national-level social partners met under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour and, on 19 July signed a text setting out their common position, saying that:

  • there is no question of reducing the minimum wage or abolishing the 13th and 14th salary;
  • the social partners should have the power to agree the legal minimum wage (currently set by the government) as part of the National General Collective Employment Agreement (EGSSE);
  • the Minister of Labour should once more have the power to declare generally binding sectoral collective employment agreements.

The text was signed by:

  • General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE):
  • Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV);
  • Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftspeople and Merchants (GSEVEE);
  • National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE);
  • Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE).

SEV proposals

SEV also sent a memorandum to the Committee of Experts, noting that:

  • the imposition of additional measures to further reduce wages would not benefit business;
  • the Greek legislation under which the Minister of Labour approves or forbids collective redundancies is a direct intervention in business freedom, and should be removed;
  • resources from the European Union and elsewhere must be used by the Greek State to limit the impact of collective redundancies on society ;
  • the minimum national wage should be set by the social partners as part of the signing of the National General Collective Employment Agreement (EGSSE);
  • the Greek system of compulsory arbitration, where one of the negotiating parties (usually the workers’ side) can appeal to the Organisation for Mediation and Arbitration (OMED), triggering an arbitration decision with the force of a collective employment agreement, is a distortion of the institution of free collective bargaining.

CJEU refers to collective redundancies legislation

In view of the forthcoming negotiations on the legislative framework for collective redundancies, the long-awaited decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Lafarge case (C-201/15) has acquired particular interest. The Advocate-General of the CJEU has already issued an opinion on the case, concluding that European law:

… precludes a provision … which requires employers to obtain administrative authorisation prior to carrying out collective redundancies and which makes such authorisation dependent on the conditions in the labour market, the situation of the undertaking and the interests of the national economy. The fact that the Member State concerned might be going through an acute economic crisis, accompanied by very high unemployment rates, does not affect this conclusion.

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