Greece: New proposals to boost employment

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The Government Council for Employment, established in April 2014, met for the first time on 1 September 2014 to consider how to combat unemployment and create new jobs. Participants included the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, government and public agency representatives, and leaders of the five national social partner associations.

Background

The Government Council for Employment was established under a Decision of the Council of Ministers (No. 13/14.04.2014). It held its first meeting on 1 September 2014 and present were the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Minister of Labour Ioannis Vroutsis, as well as other ministers who are members of the Council and are involved in the broader employment promotion policies and job creation. It was also attended by the leaders of the five national social partner organisations – the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE),the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), the Union of Commercial Associations of Greece (ESEE), the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftworkers and Merchants (GSEVEE) and the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE). All had specific proposals for combating unemployment.

The meeting was assessed by all participants as a positive step towards combating the very high levels of unemployment in the country, which the Hellenic Statistical Authority (EL.STAT) put at 25.9% in August 2014. Participants put forward a range of proposals.

Government proposals

The Minister of Labour said that, although unemployment remained at very high levels, it was expected to fall from 2014 onwards. The government's policy for 2014–2020 is based on the national strategy for growth and on measures to support the unemployed through targeted action to help them find employment and enhance qualifications. These measures include a range of institutional reforms such as:

  • creating a system to identify the labour market’s needs;
  • a further reduction in social security contributions;
  • establishing a register of 'compliant businesses' to reward companies that have fulfilled their financial obligations to the state and which comply with labour and insurance legislation;
  • intervention to support highly skilled and qualified workers and prevent a 'brain drain' from Greece; 
  • planning and evaluating active employment policies;
  • cooperation between the Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED)and the social partners;
  • creating a new institutional framework for traineeships;
  • codification of the labour legislation.

The strategy also include a range of action plans and programmes such as:

  • a 'voucher entry to the labour market' for young people aged 18–29 years to help them gain work experience in private enterprises;
  • a 'harmonisation of family and professional life' programme focused on childcare facilities;
  • community service for the long-term unemployed living in households where no member has paid employment;
  • vocational training.

A national action plan, 'Youth Guarantee in Greece', a 27-point programme designed to help some 181,000 young people, and programmes for the creation or subsidising of new jobs, would be implemented by OAED. In total, said the minister, almost 400,000 unemployed people are expected to benefit from such programmes in the 2014–2016 period.

Social partners' proposals

A successor to the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), which ran from 2007 to 2013, was in the process of being formulated. GSEE said it believed that stronger participation by the social partners in the planning and implementation of programmes for the new NSRF could contribute to the quality and control of initiatives intended to alleviate unemployment. It recognised that, while these programmes helped the unemployed, they might not combat unemployment. According to a statement by the GSEE President, GSEE also proposed to implement programmes to help those threatened with unemployment and to exploit any advantage gained in 2014 from the implementation of the 'programme of the employer of last resort' (community service placements, but with full social security rights,in government agencies and in local government).

SEV said that unemployment would be tackled most effectively through growth and by encouraging private investment, and reforms were needed that would strengthen the competitiveness of Greece's businesses and economy. SEV proposed:

  • reducing employers' non-wage costs;
  • measures to target specific categories of unemployed people;
  • evaluating and reformulating incentives to help the unemployed back into the labour market;
  • assessing and improving the existing work experience, apprenticeship and traineeship framework;
  • effective interconnection of universities and enterprises;
  • creating a national mechanism to identify what skills the Greek economy needs;
  • evaluating community service programmes, with a view to avoiding the waste of resources and supporting the cooperation of social partners and government institutions.

GSEVEE expressed its fear that unemployment could become a welfare problem. It put forward the following proposals:

  • ensuring sufficient, reliable and timely information about the labour market;
  • changing the wider economic policy (such as changing the tax legislation and facing the lack of cash flow of companies);
  • exploring the needs for skills at local and sectoral level, and whether the educational system is addressing those needs;
  • seeking to offer skills in high added value sectors to attract investment;
  • financing education and research, mainly in sectors with a comparative economic advantage;
  • considering whether an enterprise belongs to a declining or growing sector of economic activity when subsidising jobs so that if, for example, an enterprise is in a declining sector of economic activity, the preservation of jobs should be subsidised rather than the creation of new jobs;
  • increasing public investment and reversing the push for public spending cuts.

Finally, GSEVEE urged the activation of a think-tank by the social partners’ research institutes, together with the National Institute of Labour and Human Resources, to develop joint proposals that will be submitted to the Government Council on Employment.

ESEE suggested that a social agreement should be drawn up between the Greek government and the five national social partner organisations to encourage a policy of growth with employment. This proposed 'Action Plan of the Social Partners for Growth with Employment' would include commitments to action from each partner to support both enterprises and workers, in cooperation with the Ministries of Development and Labour and Education. The action plan would be based on five principles: economic reconstruction, training, employment, entrepreneurship, and social cohesion

ESEE also wants to see the establishment of a 'reliable employer' register and a businessman’s ombudsman operating to the same standards as the citizen’s ombudsman. The businessman’s ombudsman would support the interests of enterprises that do not have other supportive or advisory structures. The ombudsman's independence would ensure the reliability and validity of its opinions. ESEE also suggests that incentives should be offered to about 780,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises  (SMEs) to hire at least one unemployed person.

SETE considers a growth plan is essential to promote the dynamic and extrovert sectors of the economy, including tourism. It made the following proposals based its own 10-year strategic growth plan for tourism:

  • formal recognition of the need for social partners’ participation in the planning and implementation of employment and vocational training programmes;
  • consolidated systems to ensure the quality of vocational education and the certification of professional qualifications;
  • developing a national system to identify the specific skills and professional qualifications needed by Greece's labour market;
  • improving quality and implementation of apprenticeship and traineeship programmes;
  • timely allocation of resources to fund the new NSRF, and cooperation of state actors and social partners to implement its new programmes.

Within the framework of the 2014 National General Collective Employment Agreement, the national social partners had already agreed to plan and develop joint actions in the following thematic areas:

  • employment, education, training;
  • social protection;
  • competitiveness;
  • entrepreneurship and innovation.

They had also agreed to form a partnership with OAED to coordinate implementation of the programme to promote youth employment through apprenticeships, traineeships, the youth guarantee and young entrepreneurship schemes, and had asked the government to finance these initiatives through the NSRF.

Results of the meeting

The conclusions and the proceedings of the Government Council for Employment will constitute the framework for action and programmes for the next period. The Council will meet regularly. The participants at the first meeting decided:

  • the Reliable Business Register was to be set up immediately to reward enterprises that make every effort to comply with all relevant current legislation;
  • a partnership would be created between the social partners, the Ministry of Labour and OAED;
  • a system would be set up to define the labour market’s needs, starting by asking all Greek enterprises to fill in a questionnaire.
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