Women in employment

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In recent years, Greek women have been entering the labour force at a rapid pace. Despite the relative increase in their incomes, their quality of life appears to have deteriorated due to their need to combine work and family obligations. Women are usually employed in jobs involving little power or responsibility and are paid less than men. These are some of the key points from a review of the survey and research data available on women's employment, as at summer 2001.

Recent data and research provide evidence about the position of women in employment in Greece and about their employment conditions and relationship to the industrial relations system. Some of the key points are summarised below.

It should first be noted, however, that employment issues in Greece are complex and cannot be approached solely by studying the official data. Family ties, which remain strong in Greece, continue to provide protection to family members facing employment problems. As a result, the official data may give a false picture of employment, because many people, usually women, who are underemployed under the protection of the family, are seeking work. However, such people are officially classed either as "self-employed" or as "helpers in the family business".

Moreover, major difficulties arise when recording 'atypical' forms of employment, which often involve female employment. The phenomenon of undeclared work, which also involves female employment, merits special mention. Many enterprises violate labour legislation either by failing to provide social insurance for their staff or by failing to sign employment contracts. Irregular business practices tend to undermine the statutory system of labour relations.

Profile of working women

According to data from the National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE), the presence of women in the labour market has been steadily growing over the last five years for which information is available (1995-2000) (Structural image and developments in the labour market, National Employment Observatory (EPA), Athens, EPA Editions, 2000). The proportion of the total labour force made up by women rose from 35.8% in 1995 to 37.7% in 2000, whereas the figure for men in the same period fell from 64.1% to 62.2%. The proportion of women has increased in all occupational categories, particularly among managers (from 12.9% to 18.1%), self-employed people (from 21.4% to 27.5%) and wage and salary earners (from 37.4% to 39.7%). With regard to the latter category, female employment levels have risen significantly in the public sector. The predictable working environment and stable labour relations offered by the public services are, it appears, attracting more and more women.

According to ESYE data, in 2000 women were in a majority in the following occupational groups: office employees (58%); employees in the retail trade (52%); and unskilled workers (52%). It is worth noting that the proportion of women in the latter category rose from 47.5% in 1995 to 52% in 2000. This fact may be indicative of the pressure to enter the labour market, in whatever capacity, faced by many women.

The proportion of women is approximately equal to that of men in the groups of: high-level professionals (professionals with a third-level educational qualification) (47%); technologists/technicians (47%); and agricultural workers (42%). Occupational models are significantly differentiated by gender in the first and second groups. Among high-level professionals, women are employed mainly in education (55% of all women in high-level professions) and secondarily in medicine and biology (13%), whereas men are employed mostly in engineering (31% of all men in high-level professions) and architecture (18%). Among technologists/technicians, women are employed in jobs related to real estate/ stock market (51% of all women in such jobs) and health services (31%), whereas men are employed in real estate/stock market (49%) and work of a technical nature (31%).

Finally, women are a minority in the privileged category of management and parliamentary bodies (making up 25% of employees in this category) and are underrepresented in the categories of purely technical occupations - ie skilled technicians (14% of whom are women) and stationary industrial machine operators (9%). Women appear to be better able to penetrate the labour market than men, inasmuch as they have increased their range of occupational choices by entering all the traditionally 'male' occupations. By contrast, men have not increased their presence in classic 'female' occupations such as textiles and office work.

Women's situation at work and at home

Despite the increased presence of Greek women in the labour market, their quality of life appears to have become worse rather than better. According to recent research from Athens University (see 'European quality of life: Greece', J Yfantopoulos, unpublished working paper, University of Athens, Department of Social Policy and Health Economics, 2001), this is due to the fact that Greek women expend an inordinate amount of effort in order to reconcile their workload in paid employment with household work. First, because of the prevailing traditional mentality, many men make only a slight contribution to household work. Second, the classic inflexible eight-hour working day creates problems for working mothers. Part-time jobs in Greece are very few compared with other European countries.

As a result, working women take on an onerous task in their efforts to cope simultaneously with the demands of their jobs and household needs. In fact, they quite often leave their jobs in order to devote more attention to their families. According to research conducted a decade ago (Motherhood and female employment in Greece, H Simeonidou, Athens, National Social Research Centre (EKKE) Editions, 1990), more than 75% of women ended their careers either when they married or when they had their first child. However, it is estimated that this proportion is perceptibly lower nowadays, inasmuch as the cost of living has increased significantly and households are in need of more than one salary for their support.

The inequality between the two sexes is also reflected in other aspects of working life (see 'The functioning of the Greek labour market', M Ketsetzopoulou and G Bouzas, in Dimensions of social exclusion in Greece, Athens, EKKE Editions, 1997). For example:

  • women take longer to find their first job than men do. According to data from the ESYE, in 2000 women constituted only 32% of the age group of young working people (aged 15-19);
  • women workers are more readily dismissed than men; and
  • women are paid less than men, regardless of their occupation. In 1999, Greek women's pay amounted to only 76.2% of Greek men's.

The "glass ceiling" is obvious in the Greek system of labour relations. Although important legislative provisions regarding gender equality at work have been introduced, very few women have managed to enter positions of responsibility. The great majority have turned to low-prestige jobs, which are usually not appealing to men. In the past women have, it is reported, gained benefits through collective bargaining under the protective umbrella of the trade unions. Nowadays, with the appearance of new forms of employment and the prevalence of human resources development policies, collective bargaining has lost part of its former scope, since it has been replaced in part by individual bargaining. Modern bargaining units within enterprises are often in effect 'bipolar entities' consisting of a male boss and a female subordinate. This power relationship does not often prove to be of benefit to the woman's side.

Research ('Women in technical careers: equal opportunities in Greece', N Patiniotis and D Stavroulakis, unpublished working paper, Laboratory of Sociology and Education, University of Patras, 1997) has indicated that women are often given preference over men in recruitment to low-responsibility jobs, because employers regard women as being 'obedient' and 'accommodating'. They therefore have the necessary qualifications in the context of the requirements of the new "flexible" forms of employment. In addition, it is found, women often accept lower pay than men, and often do not take part in trade unionism.


The Greek system of labour relations is characterised by relative inflexibility with regard to working hours. Irregular business practices are often seen, which in the final analysis are directed against the weaker groups in the workforce, including women. Greek women have significantly increased their rates of participation in the labour market, but they are usually restricted to low-paid jobs involving little prestige or responsibility. Women are mainly employed in occupations related to office work and retail sales. They often enter the labour market without having secured any help with household tasks, and as a result they overexert themselves. The newly introduced individual employment contracts concluded in the context of human resources development within companies are believed to serve the interests of working women to a lesser degree than the traditional collective agreements between trade unions and management. (Dr Dimitris Stavroulakis INE/GSEE)

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