NAP's industrial relations provisions reviewed

Download article in original language : GR9906134FEL.DOC

In May 1999, the Greek government submitted its 1999 National Action Plan (NAP) for employment, in response to the EU Employment Guidelines. With regard to industrial relations, and in particular measures aimed at modernisation of work organisation, strong emphasis is laid on labour market and working time flexibility.

On 31 May 1999, the Greek government submitted its 1999 National Action Plan (NAP) for employment. Since 1998, all EU Member States are obliged to draw up such annual Plans (EU9805107N) based on the EU's Employment Guidelines. Member States are due to submit NAPs for 1999 during summer 1999, analysing implementation of the 1998 Plans and describing the policy adjustments made to incorporate the changes introduced by the 1999 Employment Guidelines (EU9810130F).

According to the Greek government, the continuing dearth of employment opportunities can be attributed to structural factors. As a result, increasing labour market flexibility appears to be a means to strike a better balance between people in and out of a job, through redistribution of employment opportunities across a larger number of workers. In periods of economic crisis, one way of seeking job security is through reduction of working time. In the area of industrial relations, and in particular the modernisation of work organisation, special emphasis is laid on labour market and working time flexibility. Achieving such flexibility is the principal target of guidelines 16 and 17 of the Employment Guidelines, which state that:

16. The social partners are invited to negotiate at all appropriate levels agreements to modernise the organisation of work, including flexible working arrangements, with the aim of making undertakings productive and competitive and achieving the required balance between flexibility and security. Such agreements may, for example cover the expression of working time as an annual figure, the reduction of working hours, the reduction of overtime, the development of part-time working, lifelong training, and career breaks.

17. For its part, each Member State will examine the possibility of incorporating in its law more adaptable types of contract, taking into account the fact that forms of employment are increasingly diverse. Those working under contracts of this kind should at the same time enjoy adequate security and higher occupational status, compatible with the needs of business.

Policy objectives and measures for achieving them

In the area of modernising work organisation, the government's goal is "to ensure that, in promoting the flexibility of working time, consideration is given not only to the operational needs of the enterprises, but to the personal needs and preferences of the employees as well, thus allowing the latter to reconcile their roles in their professional and family lives." In the government's view, the NAP's guidelines in this area are aimed at creating an efficient and flexible labour market, which will maximise employment and productivity and guarantee job security.

The measures which have been foreseen for meeting the government's goal are for the most part statutory. The provisions of Law 2639/98 on industrial relations (GR9808187N) have defined the boundaries within which agreements for the adoption of new work organisation models may develop. These provisions cover: regulation of informal forms of employment (telework, piece work, homeworking); codification and institution of a series of measures on part-time employment; introduction of a series of regulations on working arrangements, based around collective bargaining; enactment of the territorial pacts initiative in areas of high unemployment or industrial decline (GR9901107F); establishment of private employment agencies; and introduction of a labour supervising authority monitoring the ever-wider scope of labour legislation.

These recent regulations are aimed at introducing a series of structural changes in the labour market which, it is hoped, will make a decisive contribution to the maintenance of existing employment and the creation of new jobs, as well as to the improvement of the competitiveness of the Greek economy. The government contends that the regulations on informal or special forms of employment will restructure the labour market and will eliminate the negative effects of practices which exploit self-employed people. Furthermore, the parallel "shadow" labour market will be eliminated along with its detrimental effect on workers and social security funds. Another aim is to control contracts which may conceal a dependent employment relationship and to implement "good house-keeping" practices in more of the labour market, thus combating exploitation and strengthening the social security funds. As regards part-time employment, its time limitations have been removed, while full-time occupation on a rotation basis is now also included under the concept of part-time work. A fundamental innovation has been the adoption of part-time employment in the wider public sector. Along with the extension of part-time employment, provisions have been made to provide safeguards for the workers concerned.

Regarding the organisation of working time, the EU Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC) has been transposed into national legislation in its entirety. The Directive maps out the framework in which working time can be organised, in accordance with the particularities and special needs of the production unit, subject to agreement between the social partners in each individual enterprise.

The government believes that the topics covered by the 1998 law on industrial relations and the working time Directive were the object of "a very extensive and productive social dialogue", which was originally reflected in the 1997 Confidence pact for the year 2000 (GR9711138F) and was further developed in the framework of the Economic and Social Committee, which gave its opinion on working time arrangements at the level of the individual enterprise (covered by Article 3 of Law 2639/98), and in the Council for Hygiene and Safety at Work, which examined the provisions of the relevant harmonising presidential decree (GR9808186N). The aims of this measure were both to adopt minimum safety and health standards for working time arrangements and to explore the possibility for the social partners – within the framework of these standards – to agree on more flexible working hours which serve the needs of enterprises arising from the particularities of each sector or their production needs, while at the same time allowing employees more convenient rest intervals after peak work periods, and consequently a greater opportunity for optimum utilisation of their free time.

In the government's view, "it is clear that provided there is consent of both parties, the concept of flexibility broadens the scope of dialogue at local, sectoral and operational level, and constitutes a lever for the improvement both of the productivity of enterprises and of the quality of life of the employees. The optimum utilisation of the productive means and of human resources secures the existing jobs and subsequently creates new employment positions."

The NAP states that the implementation of the new provisions has already begun in the telecommunications sector, while an extensive social dialogue on the implementation of flexible forms of employment in the banking sector is currently under way. Within the framework of the implementation of the territorial pacts, the existing mechanisms for the modernisation of small- and medium-sized enterprises are being strengthened and new ones created. Public utility companies (DEKO s) are currently undergoing restructuring aimed at an adjustment of working conditions which have a direct impact upon their productivity and competitiveness (under Law 2414/96).

At the same time, the "mainstreaming" of gender equality is also said to be under discussion in the process of implementation of the guidelines. This means that the potentially negative impact that greater flexibility in work organisation may have on women is being examined. In particular, efforts are being made for the provision of appropriate data-collection systems and processes, in order to assess progress in this area.

According to the government, flexible policies present larger benefits and fewer risks when they complement an integrated active employment policy. For that reason, policies for the promotion of flexibility have, it is claimed, been integrated in a wider strategy for strengthening employment and combating unemployment. The government has recognised the need for measures which will contribute towards employment-intensive growth, and is therefore "intensifying its efforts towards the improvement of the quality of the workforce, as well as towards the creation of favourable prerequisites, so as to render the labour market capable to respond to changes in the economic activity and to create employment".

Commentary

References to industrial relations in Greece's NAP are extremely general and vague, and seem to take only minimal account of the proposals submitted by the employers' organisations and the trade unions (GR9906133F). The description of the existing situation does little more than hint at the supposed contrast between the insiders (employed people) and the outsiders (unemployed people) as an interpretation of the "insufficiency of employment opportunities". The solution to this situation, in the view of the authors of the NAP, is flexibility of the labour market, and in particular flexibility of working time - and increasing such flexibility is the main objective of guidelines 16 and 17 of the Greek NAP. Protection of workers from any arbitrary acts by the employer that might result from the new flexibility is taken into account by the NAP, but only as a secondary aspect.

The question is posed of how effective this policy is, since extensive flexibility of all kinds already exists in the Greek labour market. When these forms of flexibility are not formally provided for, they are informal and are introduced in manufacturing, services and the agricultural sector without distinction. It is worth noting that these forms of flexibility have not prevented the unemployment rate from rising above 10%. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE)

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