Unions revive issue of 35-hour week without a reduction in pay

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On 11 January 1999, Greece's GSEE trade union confederation invited employers' organisations to begin negotiations on the introduction of a 35-hour working week without a reduction in pay in the private sector. The invitation was also communicated to the Speaker of parliament and the competent ministries.

On 11 January 1999, the executive of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), deeming the need to reduce unemployment to be a key issue, decided to issue an "extrajudicial invitation" to employers' organisations to open negotiations on the adoption of a 35-hour working week in the private sector, as the most effective structural measure to increase employment and reduce unemployment. The invitation was also communicated to the Speaker of Parliament and the competent ministries - the Ministry of National Economy and the Ministry of Finance, Labour and Social Security.

The GSEE invitation states that both the present situation and the probability that Greece will enter EU Economic and Monetary Union on 1 January 2001 make it necessary to achieve an immediate agreement on regulating the official introduction of the 35-hour week without a reduction in pay. The invitation also says that account should be taken of the present economic, political and social situation elsewhere in Europe, where steps have in many cases been taken to reduce working time. The dialogue on reducing working time to 35 hours a week must be stepped up, states GSEE, so that an agreement on its implementation can be achieved within the first half of 1999.

Proposed measures to accompany the reduction of working time could be: on the one hand, transfer of public funds (at present made available for other purposes such as financing unsuccessful "active employment policies") to companies, so as partially to offset increased costs; and, on the other hand, a long-term policy for development. The invitation to negotiate was made in the framework of the legislation on promotion of the social partners' collective autonomy, in the belief that dialogue between the two sides can highlight all the issues connected to the preparations for and implementation of the 35-hour week without loss of pay. These include the selection of sectors, locations or enterprises where the measure can be taken forward immediately, or even agreement on a specific timetable for its gradual overall implementation. The process of this dialogue, in the event of a successful outcome, will - it is claimed -promote the operation of basic industrial relations institutions in Greece, such as collective bargaining and the National General Collective Agreement, inasmuch as reducing unemployment is a major issue which can be effectively addressed through bargaining by implementing the 35-hour week.

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