Committee recommends revising list of ‘arduous and unhealthy occupations’

In early September 2008, an expert committee submitted to the Greek Minister of Employment and Social Protection a report in which it recommends a revision of the list of ‘arduous and unhealthy occupations’. Workers in these occupations are entitled to retire early. The Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) opposes the proposed revision of the list.

The current statutory framework for AUOs

The system of ‘arduous and unhealthy occupations’ (βαρέα και ανθυγιεινά επαγγέλματα, AUOs) was introduced by Law 1864 of 1951. It deals with categories of workers in long-term employment in adverse conditions that cause premature health damage. The system aims to protect the health of these workers by reducing the time that they are exposed to a particularly injurious work environment through early retirement.

The current rules provide that employees engaged in an occupation classed as an AUO are entitled to early retirement on a full pension at the age of 60 for men and 55 for women, or early retirement on a reduced pension at age 53 (for both men and women), provided that they have worked for a minimum number of days in the occupation concerned.

A law on reform of the social security system passed in spring 2008 provided for an increase in early retirement ages for workers employed in AUOs, to 57 (for women) in the case of retirement on a full pension and 55 in the case of retirement on a partial pension. Implementation of this regulation will begin in 2013 (GR0805029I).

The committee’s proposals

An expert committee set up for the purpose of redefining the occupations and jobs to which the AUO rules apply submitted its report in early September 2008 to the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection (Υπουργείο Απασχόλησης και Κοινωνικής Προστασίας, YPAKP). It recommends that:

  • Certain occupations now included in the list of AUOs should be removed. These include workers in pharmaceutical manufacture, waiters, cashiers in multi-department supermarkets and hairdressers. Their exclusion from the list of AUOs would in practice result in retirement ages that are 5-7 years higher and lower wages, since at present workers engaged in AUOs receive a special allowance, thus increasing their wages and reducing their pensions.
  • AUOs should be divided into four groups (or ‘stages’), depending on the degree of hazardousness, with workers in each group receiving different enhancements to their social security rights. Stage A (lowest degree of hazardousness) would include occupations such as chemist and agronomist. Stage B would include groups such as bus drivers and chemical industry workers. Stage C would include occupations such as workers in the cement industry, airports and refineries, and seafarers. Stage D would include only 10 occupational areas (such as construction workers), in which workers would retain all the rights they currently enjoy
  • The new list of AUOs should be applicable only to new employees.
  • The list of AUOs should be reviewed every five years.

Positions of the government and the social partners

After receiving the committee’s findings, the Minister of Employment and Social Protection promised to study them ‘always guided by the interest of the workers and by the elimination of injustices, so as to arrive at an updated situation’. She also announced that there would be a new committee to deal with new occupations whose inclusion in the list of AUOs is made imperative by modern technologies.

In a letter to the Minister of Employment and Social Protection, the Greek General Confederation of Labour (Γενική Συνομοσπονδία Εργατών Ελλάδας, GSEE) requested that the committee’s report be rejected in its entirety. The GSEE representative on the committee withdrew in January 2008, arguing that the criteria used for drawing up the list were unscientific. He had already recommended, in the context of a previous committee, that various occupations not on the list be examined. In some cases, applications for inclusion were submitted as long as 25 years ago. Among those now seeking be counted as AUOs are underground workers in the Athens Metro, nurses, stretcher-bearers, welders, overhead line workers, firefighting and rescue workers, cleaners working a four-hour day with one or more employers (full-time cleaners are already counted as AUOs) and workers in biological urban sewage treatment plants.

Commentary

The system of AUOs is a benefit provided in order to offset the lack of health and safety protection in areas where working conditions are particularly poor. There is a widespread view that the system of AUOs needs to be rationalised. However, according to critics, the removal of many occupations from the list, which would result in lower wages and more years on the job, is being proposed in the absence of a solution to the question of effective protection of workers’ health and safety, which in many workplaces is practically non-existent. Thus any cutbacks are likely to be perceived by workers as an elimination of some of their rights rather than the beginning of an effort to change the model for protection of workers’ health and safety.

Sofia Lampousaki, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE)

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