Trade unions present views on employment regulation and social protection

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On 1 July 1997 the Greek trade unions made public their positions on one of the themes in the current social dialogue process, Regulation of forms of employment and social protection: towards the year 2000. Their positions differ significantly from those of the Government and the employer organisations.

On 1 July 1997, the Government, the trade unions and the employer organisations released their proposals for industrial relations reform and new forms of employment (GR9707120F). Regulation of forms of employment and social protection: towards the year 2000, the third theme contained in the present process of social dialogue launched earlier this year (GR9704112N), is particularly significant for the trade unions, as it raises the most controversial issues in industrial relations.

New forms of employment and other issues

The Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) and the Confederation of Public Servants (ADEDY) back the Government's proposal to extend labour legislation to cover all employees. They stress, however, the need to broaden the concept of the contract of employment in order to provide adequate protection for workers engaged in "atypical" forms of employment (such as homeworking and telework). With respect to teleworkers, the trade unions agree on the need to establish a general regulatory framework for those who have a contract of employment. They also want to maintain the present framework of collective agreements that prevents the exclusion of certain workers, and propose the extension of collective agreements to cover public administration and new sectors of the economy (such as groups of companies).

Referring to the possibility of determining wages in line with productivity, which rather threatens minimum wages as fixed by collective agreement, the trade unions state that they would accept it only if the means of calculation and assessment is itself defined by collective agreement or through collective bargaining at sectoral level.

Working time

With respect to the Government's proposal to promote annualised hours systems, the trade unions continue to demand the reduction of weekly working hours to 35 without a reduction in pay. They also seek to put an end to compulsory overtime and limit the availability of overtime work. Their basic argument is that the Government's proposal will not produce an increase in employment but will instead only reduce labour costs because it will abolish overtime premia.

Reductions in working time accompanied by reductions in pay through collective or individual agreements are rejected by the unions since the purchasing power of wages in Greece has been low and stagnating since the mid-1980s. Average wages in Greece expressed in Purchasing Power Parities (PPP s) remain below 65% of the average EU wage.

Part-time work

The trade unions' proposals on part-time work are in conflict with those of the Government. The unions support the model of full-time employment and stress that they will not negotiate the extension of part-time work to the public administration and broader sectors of public service and enterprise under any circumstances. They also back improvements to the legal framework governing part-time work to provide adequate working conditions and social protection for workers engaged in this form of work and to prevent it from undermining full-time work.

Territorial Employment Pacts

GSEE supports Territorial Employment Pacts (TEPs) because they can benefit individual localities through redirecting national or EU resources. It stresses however that TEPs should be part of an integrated national policy for the unemployed and not merely an isolated initiative that undermines collective agreements and destabilises labour relations.

Measures to support the socially marginalised

ADEDY and GSEE propose the following measures to help protect and secure employment for socially marginalised groups:

  • policies to support unemployed people should focus on lengthening the duration and value of benefits, modernising the Labour Force Employment Organisation (OAED) and improving training infrastructure;
  • the creation of a special "solidarity fund" for unemployed people to be financed from new sources, without increasing labour costs (such sources to include taxes on profits of capital- or technology-intensive industries and taxes linked to the protection of the environment); and
  • a minimum income support for those unemployed people who are not entitled to unemployment benefits.

The unions also have considerable reservations about the Government's proposal to transfer resources to enterprises that recruit new personnel to reduce labour costs, especially non-wage costs. GSEE's view is that, at the moment, the reduction of social security contributions (non-wage costs) will not improve the employment situation of socially marginalised groups, since wages in Greece are amongst the lowest in the EU and are even lower than officially reported due to the existence of informal or "submerged" employment. GSEE has also highlighted the lack of an alternative proposal to reduce the deficit of social insurance funds. It has moreover stressed that the funds used to subsidy enterprises and so help to reduce non-wage labour costs should not come from resources intended to support the unemployed, as Law 2434/96 establishes. Trade unions accept the reduction of non-wage labour costs only when the possible advantages benefit both the employer and employee.

Commentary

In the light of the social dialogue and given the diversity of opinions between the Government and the trade unions, industrial relations issues are being increasingly seen as the key area of disagreement between the social partners. Disagreement arises from the fact that the Government's official objective is to increase labour flexibility, whilst the unions believe that the labour market is already flexible enough and leads to increasing inequality in society. They therefore argue that the main objectives should be to protect wages, reduce long-term unemployment and provide minimum employment and social protection standards that will apply to all employees.

However, despite this divergence of views, it is considered that certain issues such as working time and reform of labour legislation will result in some agreement among the social partners. (Eva Soumeli, INE-GSEE)

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