Bill on regulation of labour relations

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In June 1998, the Greek Minister of Labour and Social Security announced a bill on the "regulation of labour relations and other provisions", which seeks to regulate various aspects of industrial relations, both in the private and public sector.

On 24 June 1998, the Minister of Labour and Social Security announced to the competent bodies a bill on "regulation of labour relations and other provisions", which contains provisions concerning important issues in labour law and industrial relations, such as working time, "atypical" forms of employment and the distinction between dependent and independent labour. The main points of the legislative proposal are set out below.

Dependent/non-dependent labour

Article 1 will introduce a "negative presumption of non-dependent labour" for those providing services or work as self-employed persons, particularly in the case of piecework, teleworking and home working. In other words, it is assumed that these self-employed people are not actually dependent employees. This presumption that self-employment does not conceal a dependent labour relationship holds insofar as the provision of work or services involved is based on an agreement which has been drawn up in writing and communicated within eight days to the Labour Inspectorate. The presumption does not hold if the self-employed person provides his or her labour exclusively or primarily to the same employer. This provision will not affect the rules on the insurance of workers by the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA) outside the employer's premises (domestic workers, teleworkers etc), on the basis of Article 22 of Law 1902/90.

Part-time work

Article 2 will replace Article 38 of Law 1892/1990 concerning part-time employment, with the objective of creating a unified legal framework for its functioning in Greece. One basic innovation is the extension of the possibility of part-time employment to the wider public sector and provision for coverage of businesses' seasonal needs through fixed-term part-time employment contracts of six months' duration, in deviation from Law 2190/1994. Such contracts may not be converted to open-ended contracts. At the same time, certain gaps in existing legislation will be filled in and regulations formerly included piecemeal in laws or collective agreements will be codified. New regulations are introduced on the following points:

  • part-time employment can be agreed, calculated not only on a daily or weekly basis, but on a fortnightly and monthly basis as well;
  • in the event that an individual part-time employment contract is not reported to the Labour Inspectorate within eight days, the employment is considered to be full time;
  • the definition of part-time employment is extended by law to include two new forms of part-time employment. These are "rotating work" - alternation of workers (individually or in groups) providing labour, without a break in company operation - and "intermittent work" - periodic employment without prior determination of specific periods of work. As a result, special guarantees and the protection provided by legislation for part-time work are also applied to these forms of work;
  • employers retain their ability to impose unilaterally a system of rotating work (see previous point) in the event that restrictions on their activity requires this, as the law has specified up to now. The innovation is that this option will be exercised after consultation with workers' statutory representatives - permission from the Prefect is no longer a precondition;
  • there is legislative recognition of the right of part-time workers to vocational training and social services provided by the enterprise. This right was also laid down in the National General Collective Agreement of 1993 and is also contained in EU Directive 97/81/EC ratifying the framework agreement on part-time work concluded on 6 June 1997 by UNICE, CEEP and ETUC (EU9706131F); and
  • there will now be legislative provisions on the obligation to inform workers' representatives of the number of people employed part-time and the prospects for full-time employment within the enterprises. This obligation was already provided for under the 1993 National General Collective Agreement.

Working time

Article 3 will broaden the possibility for agreed flexible working time arrangements provided for in Article 41 of Law 1892/1990. For enterprises employing more than 50 workers, employers can agree with a trade union (by collective agreement) or with the works council to increase the working day to nine hours for a period of up to three months, or to 10 hours for a period of up to six months, provided there are objective, technical or operational needs. For enterprises employing between 10 and 49 workers, employers can agree with a trade union or the "union of persons" (provided for under Law 1264/1892 - GR9803160F) to increase the working day to nine hours for a period of up to two months. The bill lays down the conditions under which these arrangements can be made. Exempted from the new provisions are Olympic Airways (GR9804166F) and the other public corporations now in recovery, because special laws apply to them (Law 2602/1998 in the case of Olympic).

Other matters

Article 4 endeavours to combat unemployment in certain areas of high unemployment, by providing for the conclusion of "local employment agreements" which will set wages lower than those stipulated in branch agreements, but not lower than the National General Collective Agreement minimum, with no time limitation. In addition, an employer which becomes active in one of the areas which are considered pockets of unemployment will be able to pay new recruits wages lower than those stipulated in branch agreements, but not lower than the National Collective Agreement minimum, for a period of one year, up to 31 December 2001.

Article 5 will allow "private employers' advisory bureaus" (IGSE s) to be set up for the purpose of finding, on the employer's behalf, persons - Greek or foreign - to fill job vacancies. To set such bureaus up, it will be necessary to obtain approval and permission from the Minister of Labour, following certification from the National Certification Centre (EKEPIS). The details of their operation will be determined by presidential decree.

Articles 6 to 17 return the Labour Inspectorates to the competency of the Ministry of Labour and set up a Corps of Labour Inspectors (SEPE) which will monitor the implementation of labour legislation.

Commentary

The Greek Government is taking forward structural changes which tend to increase the flexibility of the labour market and labour relations. According to the assessments of the European Commission Convergence Report 1998 (March 1998) and the OECD's Economic Outlook No. 63 (June 1998), structural changes in the labour market will contribute directly to boosting the credibility of the exchange parity of the drachma set after its recent devaluation (GR9803161F). In the long term, it is argued, such changes will also contribute to reducing unemployment without reviving inflation - reduction of the "structural component of unemployment" is considered to be a necessary condition for a lasting fall in unemployment; the OECD estimates this structural component to be 9.8%, whereas the total unemployment rate is 10.4%.

According to the Government, the new bill regulating labour relations has three aims:

In the framework of discussion of the bill within the Economic and Social Committee, trade unions are strongly questioning the degree to which the Government's objectives are actually promoted by the proposed regulations, and a nationwide strike was called for 23 July. Reservations have been expressed by the employers' side as well, but for different reasons. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE)

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