2000 Annual Review for Greece
This record reviews 2000's main developments in industrial relations in Greece.
In the parliamentary elections of 9 April 2000, the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Panelino Socialistiko Kinima, PASOK) won a majority and again formed a government with Konstantinos Simitis as Prime Minister. The other most important political event of 2000 was preparation for Greece's entry into third stage of EU Economic and Monetary Union as the 12th member of the single currency zone, which occurred on 1 January 2001.
As in 1999, collective bargaining in 2000 remained largely centralised (GR9912160F). Table 1 below shows the number of collective agreements (SSE s) concluded in 1999 and 2000 at the various levels, based on official data from the pay division of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and the number of arbitration agreements (DA s) issued by the Mediation and Arbitration Service (OMED).
Source: Ministry of Labour and Social Security and OMED.
As is traditionally the case in Greece (GR9712159F), economic issues, and in particular pay, were predominant during collective bargaining in 2000. According to estimates by the Institute of Labour (INE) of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), and in the absence of other official data (GR9912160F), the average increase in the basic wage was 4.1% in 1999 at current prices, and 1.6% at constant prices. The relevant data for 2000 have not yet been calculated.
In terms of national-level bargaining, the new National General Collective Agreement was signed at the end of May 2000, after four months of bargaining. The new accord is in force for two years – 2000 and 2001 (GR0006175N). The content of the agreement, which covers economic as well as other matters, was judged to be satisfactory by the trade unions, mainly in terms of the rate of increase of minimum wages and salaries, despite the fact that it was substantially at variance with GSEE' s initial demands (GR0002163N). On minimum pay, the agreement provides for: a 2% increase for the first half of 2000; 1.5% for the second half of 2000; 1.8% for the first half of 2001; and 1.5% for the second half of 2001. However, as inflation increased to an average of 3% in 2000 on average, a few days before the end of 2000, GSEE demanded payment of a corrective sum.
Further, in April, the government announced indirect financial assistance for 270,000 low-paid workers receiving minimum wages and salaries. This assistance will take the form of payment of their social insurance contributions out of the state budget. The announcement sparked contradictory reactions from the GSEE (GR0005171N).
According to official data from the National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE) the average contractual working week is 40 hours. The average actual working week for full-time employees working more than 25 hours per week was 42.2 hours in 1999, and INE-GSEE estimates place this figure at 42.3 for 2000.
The reduction of the working week to 35 hours without loss of pay was again in 2000 one of the trade union movement's basic demands. However, the work of the GSEE's expert bargaining committee and the corresponding employer organisations on reducing working time reached an impasse without even managing to draw up basic principles as the basis for continuing any dialogue at the expert level (GR0001159N).
The 2000-1 National General Collective Agreement provides for a reduction in the length-of-service requirement, with the same or different employers, for entitlement to a fifth week of annual paid leave - from 12 and 14 years, depending on circumstances, to 10 and 12 years. The total length of maternity leave was increased to 17 weeks, through granting one additional week of leave after confinement. In addition, the current entitlement of mothers or fathers to interrupt the working day, arrive late or leave early was extended to adoptive parents of children up to six years of age. However many of the provisions in the agreement, mainly those regarding leave issues, had not yet been implemented by the end of 2000. GSEE thus sent a memorandum to the Minister of Labour and Social Security in July, requesting legislative intervention by the Ministry for immediate, unobstructed implementation of these measures (GR0008181N).
In terms of working time flexibility issues, the government is seeking to encourage the annualisation of working time by means of collective agreements and offering unions the incentive of reducing annual working time by 90 hours. Legislation (law 2874/2000) on this issue (and many others - see below under "Legislative developments") was adopted in December 2000.
Job security/ training and skills development
Job security and training provisions in Greek collective agreements have not yet been the subject of any study by the competent authorities. As a result, there are no data available regarding this issue.
Only one major change was made to the legislative framework for industrial relations during 2000 - the adoption in December of law 2874/2000 concerning "employment regulations and other provisions" (GR0012192F). In addition to clauses referring exclusively to employment issues, this law also makes changes to the existing legislative framework for labour relations. In particular, these changes concern overtime, working time arrangements, reduction of social insurance contributions, part-time workers' pay and collective redundancies. Although the new law differed considerably from the government's initial proposals (GR0007178F), it is nevertheless aimed at further increasing labour market flexibility, mainly through flexible working time arrangements and relaxed rules governing redundancies. The objections and criticism voiced both by the employers' organisations (GR0012194F) and by the trade unions (GR0012193F), have created significant doubts about the possibility of implementing the law in practice, as many of its provisions are dependent on application through collective agreements. It should be noted that Law 2874/2000 was not the product of social dialogue - despite the government's initial invitation to the social partners to embark on social dialogue on employment and unemployment issues (GR0008179N), the discussion on labour issues foundered due to the diverging positions of the social partners (GR0008180N and GR0009183N).
The organisation and role of the social partners
The most important change in terms of the organisation of the social partners in 2000 was the unification of two oil industry trade union federations, the Panhellenic Federation of Refinery and Chemical Industry Workers (POEDXV) and the Panhellenic Federation of Petroleum Products and Refineries, Mineral Oils-Petroleum-Liquid Gas Company Staff (POEEPDOPY) to form the Panhellenic Federation of Employees in Petroleum Products-Refineries and Chemical Industry (POEPDHV) (GR0003166F). At a time when enterprises in the oil industry are merging so as better to serve their interests, on both the national and the international level, the creation of the new unified federation is seen as the trade unions' best response. It opens the way for the creation of a stronger and more widely-based industry-wide federation to deal with the increased demands and problems of the industry's workers. This merger is of particular importance at the present time in Greece, where fragmentation of the trade union movement is common.
No statistical data are available on the incidence of industrial action during 2000. Similarly, there is a lack of data for 1999, and data for the two previous years, 1997 and 1998, are not sufficient to allow any conclusions to be drawn on the situation regarding industrial action in Greece (GR9912160F). The main reason for the lack of data for 1997 and 1998 is that the Ministry of Labour, the only body with competence to record such data, failed to collect any analytical data either on the content of strikes or on the sectors affected. For 1999 and 2000, the problem is even more marked, since there are no data at all for these years. According to the Ministry of Labour, this is because since 1998 the Corps of Labour Inspectors (SEPE), which was set up by Law 2639/1998 concerning "regulation of labour relations and other provisions" (GR9808187N), is the competent authority for recording such data. Two years after its establishment, the SEPE had still not assumed all its responsibilities by the end of 2000.
However, as a whole it would appear that, in contrast to 1999, there was a significant increase in social tensions during 2000. Two one-day national general strikes were held in October and December 2000 (GR0012190N) in protest at the government's proposed new employment legislation (see above under "Legislative developments"). These strikes were characteristic of the tension that prevailed, and there was also no lack of other industrial action in specific sectors of economic activity.
National Action Plan (NAP) for employment
Contrary to expectations, the Greek NAP for 2000 was in many respects no different from its predecessors in 1999 (GR9906134F) and 1998 (GR9812108F). Not least, it still did not constitute a product of meaningful dialogue between the government and the social partners: as in the two previous years, the scant participation of the social partners, at both the planning and implementation stages, remained one of its drawbacks. As a result, the 2000 NAP is considered by many commentators to be a one-sided expression of government policy on employment and unemployment, which ignores the views of both the employers' organisations and the trade unions, even though they oppose each other on many points. Employers and unions alike refer to a perceived inability to monitor implementation of policies and an inadequate evaluation of results to date.
For their part, the trade unions questioned the need for the third NAP, viewing it as largely a repetition and rewriting of the two previous controversial NAPs (GR0006177F). In general, the question of the rapid increase in unemployment was one of the basic issues for discussion between the social partners, although there was no convergence of opinion on how to address this between employers (GR0004169F) and unions GR0009185F and GR0001162F). However, for the first time in many years, the Minister of Labour and Social Security referred in the new government's programme to full employment, and acknowledged the importance of economic growth for increasing employment (GR0005174F).
Equal opportunities and diversity issues
The question of equal opportunities does not appear to have been a topic for discussion amongst the social partners during 2000. No developments regarding equal opportunities were noted during the year, either on the legislative level or on the collective bargaining level, and the same lack of developments was also noted in the area of studies and research.
Information and consultation of employees
There were no legislative or any other significant developments in the area of the information and consultation of employees in Greece in 2000. Regarding European Works Councils (EWC s), even though Greece has implemented the relevant EU Directive (94/45/EC), the institution itself remains rather underused in practice in Greece. As a result, the impact of EWCs on the Greek system of industrial relations is essentially limited or even non-existent. Four years after Greece transposed the Directive, and despite the proposed scope of the EWCs, in practice Greek enterprises which have set up or have begun the process of setting up EWCs continue to be very few in number (GR9704111N). It should also be noted that the lack of an integrated system for recording the establishment and operation of EWCs in Greece makes any effort to evaluate them extremely difficult.
New forms of work
There is no institutional framework regulating the operation of temporary employment agencies in Greece. In addition, the incidence of teleworking is still at a very low level, due to the limited use of new technologies in Greece compared with the rest of Europe.
In general, non-traditional forms of work whose content conceals a relationship of subordination – so-called dependent employees - are growing considerably, and usually operate by side-stepping what is seen by some as the inadequate legislative framework of law 2639/1998 concerning "regulation of labour relations and other provisions" (GR9808187N) (Article 1). This is exacerbated by the inadequacy of mechanisms to monitor the implementation of labour legislation.
Other relevant developments
Other issues that concerned the social partners, and especially the unions and government, during 2000 included:
- dismissals at the FAGE dairy factory (GR0003165N), and the temporary lay-off of all employees at the Athenian Paper Mills (Softex) (GR0005170N); and
- the crisis in the Greek shipbuilding industry and the impending transfer of all the shares in the Skaramangas Shipyards to private shareholders (GR0002164F).
In contrast to 1999, 2000 saw an intensification of conflicts between the social partners. As a result, the prevailing climate was one of greater social tension. The government's intervention to increase labour market flexibility through new legislation on labour issues played a decisive role.
In 2001, it is expected that pay developments will continue to be kept within the framework of the 2000-1 National General Collective Agreement. In terms of particular issues, INE-GSEE expects more pressures for a further increase in labour flexibility particularly in the area of temporary employment agencies, which is also a demand of employers (GR0010187F). The reactions of employers and unions to the adoption of law 2874/2000, and the issue of flexible working time arrangements in particular, appears likely to result in non-implementation of the law, since this is conditional upon collective agreements. This is expected to be one of the main industrial relations themes of 2001.