Union fights breaches of working time regulations in banking
Over early 1999, the Greek Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE) has given top priority to the perceived problem of breaches of contractual working time rules, along with violations of labour legislation and collective agreements, by banking employers. The union has called on the authorities to act and has taken joint action with the GSEE union confederation.
According to the Greek Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE), working time rules are increasingly being breached in the Greek banking sector, with widespread contraventions of the standard 38 hours 20 minutes, five-day week, mainly in private and foreign banks. The union believes that the situation needs to be dealt with immediately and effectively.
In a letter dated 27 January 1999, OTOE stated that the phenomenon of breaches of working time rules in banking has taken on particularly worrying dimensions, because it has been ascertained that most overtime worked lies outside the limits laid down by labour legislation, and that in addition this overtime is not being paid for by the banks.
OTOE says that, apart from the serious problems it creates for workers, this situation contributes to unfair competition between private/foreign and state-run banks, and at the same time undermines any initiative or attempt to introduce a 35-hour week without loss of pay (a current priority for Greek unions - GR9901110N)and to protect employment levels for workers in banking. In particular, OTOE states that employment levels in banking are closely tied to the working week and overtime worked by bank employees: according to the union's estimations, a drastic reduction in overtime could lead to an increase in employment of up to 4%, since the overtime being worked in the sector adds up to the working hours of more than 1,600 employees.
If there is a reduction of working time without loss of pay, OTOE states that, apart from restrictions on overtime, a necessary condition for this to contribute to the maintenance or even creation of employment is respect for the agreements and laws concerning strict observance of working and opening hours. Finally, OTOE has set employment protection and the safeguarding of already existing jobs as conditions in cases of mergers, takeovers and restructuring in banking.
Examples of bad practice and special interventions
The trade union claims that particularly characteristic examples of the violation of normal working hours in banks are provided by EFG EUROBANK and the Bank of Athens. After visiting branches of these two banks and hearing a great number of complaints from workers, OTOE claimed that there was an almost universal violation of rules on operating hours and non-observance of statutory procedures, regarding both the legality of overtime worked and compensation for that overtime. With the aim of dealing with these problems immediately, OTOE issued a statement to the employees of EFG EUROBANK and the Bank of Athens on 13 January 1999, expressing its support for the defence of their rights and apprising them of the union' s initial actions on the matter, which include:
- a letter of censure to 17 Labour Inspectorates in the Attica Prefecture, asking them to intervene to uphold current legislation regarding banks' and bank employees' working hours, and asking that a record be made from existing data (employees' clocking in and out cards) of all violations over the past three months and that the action provided for by law be taken against those responsible; and
- a letter to the chair of the board of directors of EUROBANK demanding that he order the management of the group's banks to uphold the agreements between OTOE and the banking employers, as well as the relevant laws.
OTOE has also made a commitment to issue a special, detailed informative leaflet directed at bank employees, in which it will inform all workers about the collective agreements and laws regarding their rights in all areas of employment, such as pay, working hours, overtime and leave.
Joint OTOE-GSEE action
In an attempt to coordinate a broader section of the trade union movement in order to deal with the problem of breaches of labour legislation and collective agreements on working time in banking, the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) has decided to participate in a programme of joint actions with OTOE. In this context, a meeting was held on 25 January 1999 between the GSEE and OTOE executives. It was resolved to apply directly to the Ministry of Labour to:
- speed up implementation of the law on the new "corps of inspectors" (Law 2639/1998, Chapter B), (GR9808187N) and strengthen the infrastructure of the Labour Inspectorates in order to make their work easier; and
- make labour inspectors available immediately so that mixed groups of inspectors and representatives of GSEE and OTOE can carry out checks in bank workplaces to find out who is responsible for any breaches of working time rules.
The organisations noted that the trade union movement has asked for a drastic reduction of overtime and for the creation of new jobs. They also stated that overtime must be fully justified and approved by the Ministry of Labour, and that people must be paid for overtime worked. Furthermore, GSEE and OTOE discussed and decided on joint actions on the creation of a single primary pension fund for bank employees and on implementation of the 35-hour week in the banks.
Subsequently, on 3 March 1999 a meeting was held at the Ministry of Labour between the OTOE and GSEE executives and the Minister of Labour, Miltiadis Papaioannou, on the issue of combating the problem of breaches of labour legislation and collective agreements. At this meeting, the Minister made a commitment to send a circular letter to all Greece's Prefects pointing out the problems and demanding that the Labour Inspectorates act and sanctions be imposed where violations are noted. Concerning the demand for immediate implementation of the law on reorganisation of the Labour Inspectorates and their incorporation in the Ministry, the Minister informed the OTOE and GSEE executives that the relevant ministerial decisions are ready and that procedures are already underway regarding reinforcement of the Inspectorates' staff, so that they can function effectively from 1 June 1999, when they come under the supervision of the Ministry of Labour.
The problem of breaches of working time regulations in banks is indicative of a broader situation, whereby violations of labour legislation and collective agreements take place frequently and in most sectors of the economy. As has been pointed out in the past, the main causes of this phenomenon include the malfunctioning of the competent protective bodies, employers' practices and a lack of serious sanctions in cases of breaches of the legislation. Until recently, another cause was union indifference and lack of flexibility in taking action. The OTOE initiative aimed at combating the problem immediately and effectively may constitute both a change in the attitude of the trade unions and a move to broaden the agenda of collective bargaining. An indication of this is the fact that, in the framework of its demands for a new 1999 collective agreement for banking (GR9903117F), OTOE - although not officially demanding compliance by both sides with current statutory rules and provisions - is making such compliance a basic precondition for the favourable outcome of negotiations. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE)