Packaging company attempts to introduce rotating employment

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In March 1999, the VIS packaging company, based in the Greek town of Volos, announced to its workers its decision to introduce a system of "rotating employment" - ie temporarily placing workers on short-term work. The workers rejected the decision and proceeded to call for industrial action.

On 4 March 1999, the general management of the VIS packaging company, based in Volos, invited the trade union representing the firm's workers to meet on 8 March to discuss the introduction of a system of "rotating employment" in its cardboard box factory. Workers responded to the company's invitation by asking for a written response to a range of financial questions, which they hoped would enable them to form an opinion as to whether there were real reasons to implement this system. Rotating employment is a form of subsidised short-time working, which entails a temporary reduction in the working hours of employees as a result of economic necessity, though the contract of employment remains unchanged. The hours reduction may take the form of alternating periods of work - hours, days, weeks or months - and periods not worked

At the meeting, company representatives announced to workers their decision to implement the measure, which is based on the provisions of Law 2639/1998, the recent industrial relations reform legislation (GR9808187N), with or without the agreement of the workers' legal representatives, but reportedly did not state the reasons which led them to take this decision. Article 2, paragraph 2 of Law 2639/1998 states that "In the event of restriction of its activity, the employer may impose a system of rotating employment in the enterprise, but only after first consulting with the legal representatives of the workers. Agreements or decisions under this paragraph must be communicated to the relevant Labour Inspectorate within eight days of their being drawn up or adopted.".

Following the management decision, the VIS company union was delegated by its general assembly to call for industrial action in the form of two-hour, four-hour and 24-hour strikes against the unilateral implementation of the measure, and also to demand that a set of economic and institutional demands it made in January 1999, which met a negative response, be met. The management representatives then gave an oral justification of the company's decision to implement the system of rotating employment, by referring to a 30% reduction in turnover and the need to make similar cutbacks in wages and employment. Subsequently, after proceeding to make plans for introducing the measure, the company decided to suspend some of the company's approximately 220 workers and dismiss three of them.

In response to these developments, the Volos Labour Centre scheduled a meeting at the Ministry of Labour to press the VIS management to withdraw its decisions. At the meeting on 15 March - attended by the deputy minister and representatives of the company, the Volos Labour Centre, the company union and the General Confederation of Greek Labour (GSEE) - VIS decided to retract its decision to implement rotating employment, but did not reverse the dismissals of the three workers, despite the fact that the Volos Labour Inspectorate judged them to be illegal and improper. The VIS workers decided to continue their action, and proposed to GSEE that it should lead industrial action by workers nationwide, with the participation and support of all competent bodies.

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