National General Collective Agreement signed for 2004-5

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In May 2004, Greece's central social partner organisations signed a new two-year National General Collective Agreement (EGSSE). The 2004-5 EGSSE sets minimum wage rises, increases severance pay for blue-collar workers, introduces new forms of special leave and amends the rules on time off for breastfeeding. It also refers a number of important matters, including the reduction of working time, to further negotiations in the near future.

A new National General Collective Agreement (EGSSE) was concluded by the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) and the central employers' confederations on 24 May 2004. The two-year agreement covers 2004 and 2005.

GSEE demands

The new EGSSE was concluded after some delay, due to a serious disagreement between the social partners on increases in minimum salaries and wages. On 31 March 2004, GSEE held a 24-hour nationwide general strike in support of its demands for the new agreement (GR0405101N).

The bargaining process for the 2004-5 EGSSE began with the termination of the previous agreement (GR0204109F) by GSEE in October 2003 (GR0402101N). GSEE’s demands centred on the perceived need to improve workers’ real incomes in view of the gradual increase in inflation and in the prices of basic foodstuffs after the introduction of the euro single currency. GSEE’s basic wage demands included:

  • wage and salary increases aimed at convergence with EU averages;
  • indexation of workers’ earnings based on inflation over the previous year, and provision for a corrective clause if average inflation rises in 2004;
  • increases in seniority and long-service allowances (which are paid for each three-year period completed) for both blue- and white-collar workers;
  • reduction of the gap between minimum and average wages;
  • harmonisation of blue-collar workers’ severance pay with that of white-collar workers;
  • upward readjustment of annual holiday bonuses; and
  • payment of an overtime premium on the sixth weekly working day in companies where a five-day week has been instituted.

At the same time, the GSEE highlighted other highly important non-pay ('institutional') issues and political measures regarding the labour market. In brief, these demands included:

  • reduction of working time, aiming at a 35-hour week;
  • institutional regulation and independence of the Account for Employment and Vocational Training (LAEK) - a special joint account, to which enterprises and workers contribute for the purpose of financing training opportunities in an effort to combat unemployment;
  • longer annual paid leave;
  • simplified procedures for obtaining other types of leave for family, study or health reasons and longer duration of such leave;
  • new rules for part-time employment, setting a minimum working time of four hours per day and 20 hours per week. GSEE also sought a 25% pay increase for part-timers and called for the pay of part-time workers to be at least half the pay of full-time employees;
  • promotion of collective agreements at the level of groups of companies, and preservation of employment and social insurance rights in the event of transfer of companies;
  • extension of the protective provisions of labour legislation, by counting as employment relationships involving subordination those workers doing concealed or dubious forms of subordinate work in the guise of independent services provisions; and
  • creation of an occupational hazard prevention fund in the social insurance system, into which every employer should pay contributions in respect of their employees, the amount of which should be determined by various criteria (eg the hazardousness of the industry).

Finally, some specific issues regarding industrial relations and workers’ quality of life were also on the GSEE’s list of demands. These included: combating sexual harassment and bullying at work; environmental protection; support for volunteers at the Athens Olympic Games and other efforts related to the Games; and making it easier for foreign workers to obtain work permits and all other necessary documents from employers, so that they can obtain permission to reside and work in Greece without undue delay.

Employers' positions

For the employers’ side and the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) in particular, the basic issue for negotiation was increases in minimum wages and salaries that would not put companies’ competitiveness at risk. For SEV, protecting the competitiveness of Greek enterprises and ensuring a climate of industrial peace are basic factors for guaranteeing the smooth operation of businesses and achieving economic growth.

In this context, SEV was satisfied with the final agreement reached in May. According to a statement issued by SEV at the beginning of June: 'The rates of increase finally agreed upon indicate the willingness of the employers’ side to boost minimum wages of unskilled workers, at the same time signalling SEV’s effort to free the EGSSE from the needs and particularities of individual sectors, in the framework of bargaining for the conclusion of sectoral, enterprise-level and other collective agreements.'

The agreement

The agreement reached by the social partners on 24 May 2004 provides for the following.

  • The salaries and wages of workers nationwide will be increased in instalments by a total of 6% and 5.5% for 2004 and 2005 respectively.
  • The minimum wage for unmarried blue-collar workers with no previous service will be increased beginning from 1 September 2004 by an additional flat-rate amount of EUR 8 per month (to EUR 25.01 a day). Similarly, the minimum salary of unmarried white-collar workers with no previous service will be increased by a flat-rate amount of EUR 8.50 per month (to EUR 559.98 a month). In this way minimum wages and salaries are increased more than higher income brackets, by around 7.5% and 7.7% respectively for 2004. For 2005, the minimum daily starting rate for such blue-collar workers rises to EUR 26.41 and the minimum monthly starting rate for such blue-collar workers to EUR 590.
  • A reduction of working time will be discussed after the Olympic Games are over.
  • Severance pay for blue-collar workers will be increased, as shown in the table below.
  • Entitlement to reduced hours 'for breastfeeding and caring for children' will begin when maternity leave ends, rather than when the birth occurs. In this way, time off for breastfeeding is extended for another nine weeks. Alternatively the time off for breastfeeding and caring for children may be taken as continuous paid leave of equal duration. The conditions for such leave are an application by the worker and the consent of the employer
  • Rights to leave are introduced for: natural or adoptive parents of a child up to the age of 16 suffering from an illness that requires transfusions of blood or blood products, or dialysis (10 days per year); students on postgraduate or doctoral courses (10 days per year unpaid for up to two years); and employees with at least four years of previous service who are HIV-positive or have AIDS (one additional month of paid leave per year).
  • A joint committee of experts will be set up before the end of October 2004 to examine the rules for the use of electronic monitoring in the workplace and the prevention of illegal or wrongful management control. Representatives of employers' and trade union organisations and members of the Hellenic Data Protection Authority will take part in the committee.
New provisions on blue-collar workers’ severance pay in 2004-5 EGSSE
New regulations Old regulations
Years of service Amount of severance pay Years of service Amount of severance pay
15 EUR 100 15-20 EUR 95
20 EUR 120 20-25 EUR 115
25 EUR 140 25-30 EUR 135
30 or more EUR 160 30 or more EUR 150

The parties to the new EGSSE have also agreed to a range of issues/actions for the immediate future. Notably, they agreed on:

  • submission of a joint request to the government for release from the current obligation to announce and obtain permission for overtime with regard to the 44th and 45th hour worked per week, retaining current levels of pay;
  • the design of measures to implement the LAEK's actions, and immediate transformation of the LAEK into a private-law body;
  • promotion of active policies for the employment of older people through the Greek National Action Plan (NAP) for employment;
  • partnership actions to combat sexual harassment and bullying at work and reduce the extent of concealed forms of subordinate work in the labour market, as well as joint highlighting of issues relating to environmental protection;
  • provision of the necessary supporting documents for foreign workers by enterprises and increased efforts to make legalisation procedures easier for immigrants;
  • provision of information to workers and employers on the existing institutional framework regarding health and safety at work, and completion of enterprises’ obligations with regard to written occupational hazard assessments; and
  • incorporation in domestic law by 20 September 2004 of the full text of the EU framework agreement on telework concluded by the European-level social partners in July 2002 (EU0207204F)..

Commentary

The bargaining leading up to the conclusion of the 2004-5 EGSSE was particularly arduous, lasting for about six months. However, after a series of mutual concessions and compromises, the social partners were able to reach agreement on various issues, including the level of minimum wage increases, which has traditionally been the predominant subject of such agreements in Greece. Although, in the preliminary round of bargaining, GSEE set better real incomes for workers as the primary goal, with demands for wage and salary increases of not less than around 8%, the increases achieved in the end were 5.5% and 6% for 2004 and 2005 respectively. Nevertheless, higher increases are provided for workers at the bottom of the wage scale, aiming at gradually reducing the gap between the minimum and average wage and providing higher incomes for low-paid workers. It should be noted that wages in Greece are among the lowest in the European Union. (Lefteris Kretsos, INE/GSEE-ADEDY)

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