Greece: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018
Reforms affecting strikers’ rights, social dialogue on the institutional framework for collective agreements, and the approval of the annual national collective agreement are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Greece in the first quarter of 2018.
New ‘right to strike’ measures
In the first quarter of 2018, the EU institutions and the Greek government continued their negotiations to close the third evaluation and begin the fourth evaluation of the third economic adjustment programme (2015–2018). As a result, in January 2018, new measures were adopted that affected the right to strike. This new legislation deals exclusively with the right of a primary company-based trade union to call a strike.
According to the new law (Article 211, Law 4512/2018 ), at least half the union's paid-up members must be present before a general assembly of employees can discuss and call a strike. This replaces a previous provision under Law 1264/1982 (Article 8, paragraph 2), which set specific conditions for calling a strike, including support from at least 20% of paid-up members.
This provision only applies to primary unions in local companies or establishments. Primary unions with regional or national coverage, and secondary and tertiary trade unions, are not affected, since their executive councils are responsible for approving strike action.
Social partners renew National General Collective Employment Agreement
On 28 March 2018, national social partners – the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) and National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE) – signed the National General Collective Employment Agreement (EGSSE). The EGSSE renews the 2017 National Collective Employment Agreement until 31 December 2018. As the social partners do not rule on the minimum wage (which has been set by legislation since 2012), they have agreed to maintain non-wage conditions, such as the marriage allowance, three-yearly pay increases based on prior working service, and leave for working parents. The social partners have pledged to start negotiating the pay terms of the EGSSE if legal restrictions on the content of the 2010–2012 EGSSEs are lifted this year.
In addition, social partners will set up joint technical study groups on the National Occupational Insurance Fund, the ‘Business Restart – Rescuing Jobs’ initiative and on guidelines for collective bargaining. They also will run joint projects on the future of work and vocational training.
Finally, social partners have called on the government to set up a permanent tripartite consultation council, as provided for in the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) International Labour Convention (144).
Government and social partners discuss collective agreements and arbitration
Minister of Labour Effie Achtsioglou pledged to present the European Union institutions with draft proposals by the end of April 2018 on raising the minimum wage, re-establishing collective agreements and combatting precarious employment contracts. The government prepared the proposals in consultation with social partners and in light of studies into mediation and arbitration procedures, a potential representativeness mechanism for sectoral collective employment agreements, and the codification of labour law. The plans will inform negotiations on labour issues, required under the fourth evaluation of the financial stability programme.
During the process, Ms Achtsioglou held rounds of talks with social partners (GSEE, GSEVEE, SETE, SEV and ESEE) and the Economic and Social Council of Greece (ESC) to review the institutional framework for collective agreements and arbitration. Discussions also covered the anticipated obligatory extension of collective agreements post-August 2018 and changes to penalties for undeclared work.
While the results of the meetings were not made public in the first quarter, the law (4172/2013) makes clear that any change to the minimum change will not be finalised before June 2019 (and cannot change during the financial support programme, which ends in August 2018). Furthermore, there will be no change to the favourability principle as this was not on the agenda. Critics have challenged the government’s view that the favourability principle is settled under existing legislation (4172/2013), by arguing that the law gives company-based collective agreements precedence over sectoral ones during the financial support programme.
Social dialogue on changes to the labour relations system is expected to conclude in final decisions during the fourth evaluation (most likely after the after the end of the economic adjustment programme in August 2018). The talks have revealed growing disagreements and social partners’ deep concerns about the limits and options for change.
The final decisions on the government’s proposals and Greece’s post-memorandum status are likely to be announced during the negotiations with the European institutions towards the end of the third quarter.