Social dialogue and conflict resolution


Social dialogue and conflict resolution in the acceding countries
Conference

Kranj, 31 March - 2 April 2004
Kokra Hotel (Brdo Estate) Kranj, Slovenia

Speech abstract - Matina Yannakourou

Labour Conflict Resolution Mechanisms in Greece

Introduction

Greece belongs to that group of countries in which legislation plays a crucial role in regulating labour relations and collective bargaining.

Since 1990, under a coalition government, a modern innovative law was passed, which is in force up to the present day, with the unanimous consent of the political parties, as well as the social partners. This law introduced a system of mediation and arbitration as a means to resolving collective labour disputes of interest, which is in essence an extension of collective bargaining, since it comes into operation after free bargaining fails. A central position in the management of this system is held by the independent Mediation and Arbitration Service (OMED), administered mainly by the social partners. OMED has also been entrusted the establishment and operation of the autonomous Board of mediators and arbitrators who provide independent services to the parties.

Typology of labour conflicts and the means for solution

There is no legal typology of labour conflicts in Greece. In theory there is a distinction between individual and collective labour disputes, which affects the means of resolving labour disputes.

Individual labour disputes are always conflicts of rights and are primarily resolved by the competent courts. Individual labour disputes can also be subject to the process of conciliation, which is an administrative one, but not to those of mediation and arbitration. Collective labour disputes can be legal (conflicts of rights), in which case they are resolved either judicially or through the administrative procedure of conciliation. Collective labour disputes may also reflect a conflict of interests, in which case they constitute the pre-eminent object of mediation and arbitration.

Extra-judicial means for the resolution of collective labour conflicts: general overview

In Greece there are three types of extra-judicial mechanisms for settling collective labour disputes: conciliation, mediation and arbitration. The parties are not obliged to exhaust each mechanism before proceeding to the next.

These mechanisms are provided by Law 1876/1990. Arbitration is also foreseen by the Greek Constitution of 1975 (article 22 para 2), which states that “General working conditions shall be determined by law, supplemented by collective labour agreements contracted through free negotiations and, in case of the failure of such, by rules stipulated by arbitration.”

Law 1876 makes it possible for collective labour disputes to be settled in ways that will be suggested by the collective autonomy (the parties); in practice, however, such conventional settlements cannot be found.

  1. Conciliation is completely voluntary in nature and operates independently of mediation and arbitration, i.e. having sought conciliation is not a prerequisite for referral to the other two. Another feature of conciliation is that it is essentially an extension of collective bargaining with the help of a third party (an assisted collective negotiation). The third party who attempts to resolve the conflict cannot propose a specific solution to the parties. An application for conciliation can be submitted by the competent trade union organisation, the interested employer individually or the interested working person. Conciliation is provided by an employee of the Ministry of Labour who is designated Conciliator and can be conducted at either the central (i.e. at the Ministry of Labour) or regional level (in local Labour Inspectorates). During the conciliation process, resort to strike is permitted, as it is permitted during both the mediation and arbitration processes.
  2. Mediation is the conduct of collective bargaining with the assistance of a Mediator; its purpose is to assist the signing of a Collective Labour Agreement or to reach some other agreement between the parties. The task of the mediator is not restricted, as it is in the case of conciliation, to creating the proper climate for dialogue, but has a more active part to play. Examining the arguments on each side, the mediator tries to assess how well grounded they are and can judge the direction in which the dispute may be resolved, formulating specific proposals. Mediation services are provided by OMED.
    The mediation process has the greatest weight in the Greek system for solving labour disputes peacefully, since its success calls off the arbitration process.
  3. Arbitration is the process for settling labour collective disputes of interest by decision of an Arbitrator, if the parties have not been able to reach a collective labour agreement. What differentiates it from the other forms is the compulsory nature of the decision that will resolve the conflict (arbitration award).
    Arbitration in the Greek system takes on the form of both voluntary and mild compulsory arbitration, while it is characterised more by compulsory than by optional elements. This means that appeal for arbitration may be addressed either by joint agreement of the parties either unilateral by either side (trade unions or employers) if mediation has been refused or the mediator’s proposal rejected.
    A November 2003 decision by the Committee of Freedom of Association of the ILO stated the non compliance of the system of compulsory arbitration provided by the Greek independent service OMED with international labour conventions 98 and 154, which have been ratified by Greek law. Therefore it recommended the Greek government to start consultations with the most representative organisations of trade unions and employers in view of measures which will restrain compulsory arbitration in cases involving companies providing goods and services covering substantial and vital needs of the population (mainly public corporations).
    Appeal to arbitration does not suspend the right to strike on the part of the working people (there is no peace obligation). The employer does not have the right to lock out. Arbitration services are provided by OMED.

Assessment

  1. During 1992 – 2001, only 21.4% of all collective labour agreements signed nation-wide were concluded through mediation services provided by OMED. This confirms that the collective parties to those agreements have as a rule to reach an agreement without the necessity of mediation of third parties. Consequently, the role of OMED is of a purely supplementary nature. It is important to point out that national general collective agreements are never referred to the mediation and arbitration process.
  2. In the overwhelming majority of cases, OMED is brought into the process by trade union organisations that operate in sectors or occupations with a low trade union density and with no bargaining tradition, or in sectors or occupations, in which the State is involved, with the exception, at least for the present, of the state-controlled banks and public utilities.
  3. The institution of mediation operates very satisfactorily and constitutes a special form of social dialogue. With regard to the requests for provision of mediation services submitted for the purpose of helping the sides reach a collective labour agreement, the average rate of success, i.e. of collective labour agreements signed during 1992-2001, was 46% on the general level and 81% of the company level (OMED, Report Activity 1992-2001).
  4. A significant decrease in the number of arbitration awards has been observed since 1992, when new legislation came into force. The annual average rate of arbitration decisions fell to 13,5 % (from 50,5%), with the exception of 2003, where it was raised to 18,9% (OMED, Report Activity 2002-2003).
  5. The adoption of a modern legal and institutional framework in the 1990s favoured the gradual abandonment of the climate of conflict. From 20.494.944 working hours lost and 472 strikes in 1980, we saw a gradual decrease to 1.515.347 working hours lost and 38 strikes in 1998 and 45,642 working hours lost and 15 strikes in the first four months of 1999.
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