New Labour Inspectorate launched
The social partners in Greece have repeatedly expressed the need to reorganise and modernise the Labour Inspectorate. The existing structure was limited and unable to meet current requirements for better monitoring, specialisation, flexibility and rapid action. Legislation adopted in 1998 created a new institutional framework for the operation of the Labour Inspectorate, and established a new Corps of Labour Inspectors (SEPE). The new body was officially inaugurated in December 2000.
The basic objective of the Greek Labour Inspectorate is to monitor the implementation of the provisions of labour legislation. This basic objective has over time been given another dimension by the needs created by developments in the areas of terms and conditions of employment, new forms of employment, immigration and protection of workers' health and safety. The European Union promotes this objective, requiring Member States to implement correctly and uniformly its various Directives in the area of labour relations and particularly workers' health and safety. This requires a reliable monitoring mechanism.
The Greek Labour Inspectorate has proved unable to meet these present-day needs, and unable to overcome problems created in the framework of the operation of the new institutions of prefectural government, of which it initially formed part. The need for uniform implementation of labour legislation was a basic reason for the institutional restructuring of the Labour Inspectorate, which occurred in 1998 through Law 2639/98 on "regulation of labour relations, establishment of a Labour Inspectorate and other provisions" (GR9808187N). This legislation created a new institutional framework for the operation of the Labour Inspectorate, and established a new Corps of Labour Inspectors (SEPE).
The SEPE came into operation on 1 July 1999. Its organisation was completed and it was officially inaugurated in December 2000. The main features of the new structure of the Inspectorate are as follows:
- it reports to a central authority, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, so as to ensure a unified policy for monitoring the implementation of labour legislation;
- its competencies are increased to include the monitoring of illegal employment and uninsured employment;
- the discrete role of the various types of Labour Inspector - Social, Technical and Sanitary Inspectors - are being highlighted, so as to enhance the quality of their monitoring role through specialisation of their activity;
- the number of Labour Inspectors will be increased significantly;
- initial and continuing training for Inspectors will be mandatory;
- the services of the SEPE will be subject to constant internal monitoring by a Special Inspectors Unit set up in the SEPE' s central office, in order to ensure the transparency and objectivity of the work of the inspectors; and
- the SEPE will be subject to "social monitoring" through institutions now being created, in which workers' and employers' representatives will take part
The SEPE is above all a monitoring mechanism whose main task is to monitor the implementation of labour legislation in respect of: terms and conditions of employment (such as working time limits and pay); the legality of employment; the investigation of workers' social insurance coverage; and workers' health and safety conditions.
The SEPE' s offices are to be open every day of the month, and due to the nature of its work it will exercise its monitoring responsibilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In order to carry out its work, the SEPE's role is to:
- freely enter all workplaces in the private and public sector, at any time of the day or night, even without prior notification;
- carry out necessary examinations, monitoring or investigations of all types, with a view to determining whether the provisions of labour legislation are being observed;
- temporarily suspend operation of the whole or part of an enterprise, if the SEPE deems that workers' safety and health are directly at risk;
- impose, or take legal action to impose, administrative penalties;
- have access to archives, documents, registers, books and other data concerning an enterprise;
- investigate the causes of fatal and serious industrial accidents and draw up accident reports;
- investigate the causes of occupational diseases and the conditions in which they occur;
- collect samples, conduct analyses, measure natural, chemical and biological factors and take photographs; and
- take action to reconcile any individual or collective labour disputes which may arise.
Penalties will be incurred by anyone who prevents Labour Inspectors from entering an enterprise or who provides false data. All administrative, police and harbour authorities, judicial and public services, as well as the services of regional and local authorities, must provide assistance to the SEPE upon request.
The structure of the SEPE, as laid down in its memorandum and articles of association (Presidential Decree 136/99), is based on the differentiation of the branches of the Inspectorate and the thematic differentiation of monitoring services. Thus the Labour Inspectors are divided into three separate branches:
- Social Inspectors;
- Technical Inspectors; and
- Sanitary Inspectors.
Likewise, monitoring services are divided into two categories:
- social inspection services, whose main task is the monitoring of the terms and conditions of employment and illegal employment and the investigation of workers' social insurance coverage. The Social Inspectors are part of these services; and
- Occupational Risk Prevention Centres (KEPEKs), whose main task is the monitoring of workers' health and safety conditions and the prevention of occupational risks. The Technical and Sanitary Inspectors are part of these services.
Presidential Decree 136/99 establishes that the SEPE is organised on the basis of a central service and regional services, in order to function as a modern monitoring body. The central service is made up of:
- the office of the special secretary who heads this service;
- the department of Special Inspectors responsible for the internal monitoring of the service (see below);
- the planning and coordination division; and
- the administrative and technical support division.
The regional services are organised in line with the division of the country into regions and prefectures, and include:
- 16 regional social inspection divisions, under which fall 76 local social inspection departments (mainly at the prefectural level); and
- seven Occupational Risk Prevention Centres, on the divisional level, with interregional competency, under which fall 31 local departments of technical and sanitary labour inspection (at the prefectural level).
For the Attica region in particular, where a large number of workers and enterprises are concentrated, four social inspection divisions have been created; four Occupational Risk Centres also have their headquarters in Attica.
Internal monitoring of the SEPE is achieved through the Special Inspectors Service. This service is provided for in Article 11 of the memorandum of association and it reports directly to the special secretary of the central service. Five vacancies for directors and five vacancies for heads of departments in the Special Inspectors Service were created and filled. These vacancies are divided among the Social Inspectors and the Technical Inspectors in a ratio of three to two. The Special Inspectors have all the competencies, duties, obligations and rights of SEPE employees. However, they mainly function as a separate monitoring instrument for enterprises all over Greece (when called on to do so), and in parallel they monitor the operation of the SEPE' s regional services.
Article 10 of the memorandum of association provides for the training and retraining of SEPE staff. Initially, inspectors are trained before they enter the SEPE (six months of mandatory training) and thereafter at regular intervals or when necessary.
The new institution for labour inspection appears to be much improved compared with its predecessor in terms of its field of responsibility, number of specialised staff, broad scope throughout the country and new procedures for internal monitoring which were introduced in order to ensure that it operates in a transparent and objective manner. However, workers' and employers' representatives have expressed reservations and have pointed out some improvements which need to be made. Specifically, they are demanding that a greater number of specialised staff be engaged in order to ensure that the SEPE meets the quantitative and qualitative requirements of its broader role, and also to ensure that it moves away from government influence, for the purpose of ensuring that its actions are beyond reproach. (Anastasia Koutsivitou, Federation of Greek Industries (SEV))