Quality in work and employment — Greece

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 02 July 2007

Lafteris Kretsos

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

In Greece, the need to increase employment and decrease unemployment continues to overshadow the issue of improving quality in work. Despite certain efforts in recent years turned in the direction of bringing quality of work to the fore as an immediate policy priority, present-day reality in most workplaces shows that even more serious and decisive steps are needed for a real improvement of working conditions and terms and conditions of employment.

1. The importance of quality of work

The issue of improving working conditions and terms and conditions of employment takes second place to the issue of combating unemployment. From time to time conferences and seminars have been held on subjects covering various related issues such as reconciliation of family and working life, occupational hazards and workers’ free time. Such conferences are attended by researchers and representatives of political, social and trade union bodies, who usually express the need for immediate implementation of more specialized policies in the area of quality in work. In certain cases a concern regarding the conflict between job quality and job creation is also highlighted. A typical example include the merely recent publications by Kouzis & Kretsos (2006) and Kouzis (2005) in which it is stated that Lisbon targets are more oriented to reduce unemployment in purely statistically and numerical terms and to a much lesser extent in doing so by paying strong attention to job quality issues.

The need to align the country with Community policy guidelines on employment in the framework of the revision of the Lisbon Strategy (enrichment of national legislation with the content of Community directives, design of national action plans for employment and social cohesion, etc.), as well as a stronger climate of social dialogue in relation to previous decades, are additional factors of particular importance for bringing quality in work to the fore in the public dialogue. However, only in issues of health and safety at work and of vocational training can there be said to be fertile ground for the emergence of agreements for cooperation among the social partners and the competent government bodies.

One characteristic example in this regard was the relatively recent establishment of the National System for Vocational Education and Training (ESEEKA), which recently came into operation with the participation of broader social bodies for the purpose of mapping out and coordinating an integrated strategy to improve the vocational qualifications of the workforce. Another similar example is the Hellenic Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (ELINYAE), a bipartite body for the promotion of policies to combat occupational hazards and to promote social awareness/information on workplace health and safety. ELINYAE constitutes the first institution that came into existence as a partnership project between employers and employees. The Centre of Health and Hygiene and the Center of Safety that operates as a specific research unit in ELINYAE conducts research programmes with the aim to detect, record, analyze and investigate the various hazardous agents and conditions in the work environment and their effects on the health and safety of the employees. Experts at the centers also provide services on matters concerning health and safety, especially after written requests from Workers’ Committees for Health and Safety, Trade Unions, Employers’ Federations and Enterprises. On completion of a study a written report is prepared by the centres and submitted to both social partners.

2. Employment stability and career perspectives

Has the concept of flexicurity entered the national debate on employment and social policies between politicians, trade unions, employers, press and other interest groups?

The term appears from time to time in the newspapers and electronic media, usually in a descriptive manner and without being an issue of major importance. In general there is quite a bit of vagueness and distrust vis-à-vis the issue of flexicurity: the proponents of stimulating flexibility in the Greek labour market offer a positive commentary and the opponents of flexibility take a particularly negative view of the policies promoted by the dogma of the introduction of flexibility into labour legislation. . The recent (January - March of 2007) talks of Economic and Social Committee (OKE) regarding the European Commission Green Paper on modernising labour law renewed the debate on flexicurity in Greece. As noted in the relevant opinion of OKE the term of flexicurity that characterizes the whole analytical conception of the Green Paper provokes a lot of scepticism and is considered to have the potential to cause serious damage the future of the European Social Model.

At the present juncture the necessary base for the unions, government and employers to form common positions on industrial relations developments and prospects for their reform has not been developed. Examples of issues that highlight the existing climate of conflict are the settlement of the question of public sector contract workers and banks’ opening hours, which often spark serious disagreement between the social partners. Nevertheless, the latest national general collective labour agreements, which set minimum limits for pay and social protection, contain provisions on the promotion of telework and increased protection for working mothers and other vulnerable social groups.

According to a relatively recent empirical study on employment and industrial relations (Kouzis, 2002), and statistical data available from the National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE), the predominant model of work organisation in Greece is characterised by the provision of full-time jobs of indefinite duration. Nevertheless, temporary and overtime work and work at non-typical times (weekends, evening work, etc.) have shown over time a greater dynamism than full-time permanent employment (Kretsos, 2005).Despite the sectoral differences the following tables and diagram are quite indicative of that trend.

Table1: Trends in Part-Time work in Greece, 1993-2002

  Net increase/ decrease of employment (job positions breakdown by full-time and part-time contracts) Full-Time Part-Time Share of Part-Time employment in net new jobs (%)
Total economy 233,539 216,801 16,738 7.2%
Agriculture -165,120 -160,846 -4,273 na
Fishery -1,832 -1,475 -357 na
Quarries and Mining -445 -134 -311 na
Manufacturing -38,178 -35,137 -3,041 na
Energy, gas and water industry -5,880 -5,857 -22 na
Construction 32,705 38,244 -5,539 <0%
Wholesale and Retail Trade 87,175 80,429 6,747 7.7%
Hotels and restaurants 69,554 62,904 6,649 9.6%
Transportation and Communication -5,416 -5,892 476 -
Financial Intermediaries 11,665 11,967 -301 <0%
Real Estate 91,827 89,155 2,672 2.9%
Public service and defence 26,915 27,876 -962 <0%
Education 47,735 37,861 9,873 20.7%
Health and Social Services 24,591 25,641 -1,050 <0%
Other services 30,377 31,297 -918 <0%
Private households 28,562 21,360 7,202 25.2%

Source: ESYE, evidence from National Labour Force Surveys.

Table2: Trends in Temporary Employment in Greece, 1993-2002

  Net increase/ decrease of employment (job positions breakdown by permanent-temporary contracts) Permanent Temporary Share of temporary employment in net new jobs (%)
Total economy 396,505 335,829 60,676 15.3%
Agriculture -5,386 -1,918 -3,468 na
Fishery -1,245 -922 -324 na
Quarries and Mining 446 166 279 62.6%
Manufacturing -6,607 -4,803 -1,803 na
Energy, gas and water industry -5,736 -4,882 -854 na
Construction 34,912 45,105 -10,193 <0%
Wholesale and Retail Trade 108,032 101,034 6,997 6.5%
Hotels and restaurants 59,313 40,144 19,169 32.3%
Transportation and Communication -1,508 -2,144 636 na
Financial Intermediaries 5,927 5,873 54 0.9%
Real Estate 63,558 56,952 6,607 10.4%
Public service and defence 25,733 13,878 11,855 46.1%
Education 48,237 31,098 17,138 35.5%
Health and Social Services 15,152 11,913 3,239 21.4%
Other services 28,625 25,117 3,508 12.3%
Private households 27,750 20,191 7,559 27.2%

Source: ESYE, evidence from National Labour Force Surveys.

Diagram 1: Distribution of wage employment according to the usual weekly working hours, 1983-2005

Source: Kretsos L. (2006)

Note: The conventional weekly working hours in Greece is usually 40 hours in the private sector and 37.5 in the private sector.

The country’s largest employer organisation, the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), along with other employer bodies, have from time to time touched on the issue of the high levels of severance pay compared to other European countries and the failure of the labour force’s supply of knowledge and skills to match demand (GR0604019I). From the other side, unions stress that wages and labour cost remain much lower than the vast majority of the EU-15 countries. Furthermore the unions point out that the system of social and insurance coverage for the unemployed is not generous at all. The low levels of unemployment benefits in Greece and their limited duration are also highlighted in relevant international studies (OECD, 2006).

Health and Safety

To what extent is there public awareness of this evolving agenda? How far are employers and trade unions – together or separately – addressing these new issues?

In Greece there is no system for the social insurance organisations and the competent public authorities to record occupational illnesses. To the extent that the new health risks to workers due to the effect of factors in the work environment are not recorded, it is only to be expected that there will be no specific policies to identify such risks.

The issue of rising retirement ages as a means of resolving the financial problem of the social insurance system (SKA) comes up frequently in public debate. However, the issue of the risk to workers’ health entailed in extending working life is a secondary aspect of this debate, since the financial recovery of the SKA and the promotion of active ageing policies in the context of the guidelines set by the European Employment Strategy are the main concern.

In the case of occupations designated as arduous and unhealthy (BAEs), in which provision is made for fewer years of employment for reasons involving their increased risk to workers’ health, the recent establishment of a special committee of experts is expected to redefine the total number of occupations designated as BAEs. This fact is likely to affect the pension status of workers in such occupations (higher retirement age, higher contributions, etc.). It is worth noting that according to the committee’s most recent finding (March 2004) employees in BAEs are engaged in 81 specific economic activities and number around 700,000.

Regarding workplace relations, the Greek case is characterised by a glaring lack of relevant empirical studies, which also justifies the failure of public bodies to pursue policies on issues of abuse or unequal treatment at work. A significant part in restricting such phenomena is played, in accordance with the existing statutory framework, by the Labour Inspectorate; however, in practice it presents serious organisational weaknesses and as a result exercises limited control on companies as regards observance and enforcement of the existing provisions of labour legislation.

In its sectoral studies on workplace health and safety, the Hellenic Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (ELINYAE) makes special reference to the gender dimension and takes relevant initiatives. Typical examples of this concern include:

  • The project “New occupational opportunities for female graduates on the filed of health and safety at work” financed in the framework of the NOW EU Intitative.

  • The study regarding the the investigation of health and safety hazards in call centers, in which a greater incidence of abuse of female workers was observed.

A specific study by KETHI (2004) on the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace pointed out that even in cases where such behaviour against female workers is evident the management did little or nothing to stop it (GR0407103F).

4. Skills development

With global economic integration, the EU’s comparative economic advantage is shifting towards sectors and activities that use more non-manual skills – not only in performing intellectual or creative tasks, but in handling inter-personal relations and contacts.

Has the need for life-long learning in order to cope with continuous structural change been accepted by the government, social partners and the public at large?

The need to strengthen lifelong learning is a common goal and field of bargaining between the social partners and the state. Apart from the recent establishment of ESEEKA. ESEEKA’s policy priorities focus on upgrading the system for identifying education and training needs and developing a system for certifying the results of lifelong learning. Specific policy actions in this direction concern the agreement of the social partners to plan and support joint actions to improve lifelong vocational education and training (Article 8 of the National General Collective Labour Agreement for 2006-2007). On its side, the government has set the goal, as stated in the National Reform Programme for 2005-2008, of creating a second-chance school in each region, broadening the system of open universities and improving the links between vocational training and the labour market. The institution of second chance schools has been developed as an effort to combat the social exclusion of adults who have not finished basic education and do not have the necessary qualifications and skills to adapt to modern vocational requirements. Young people aged between 18 and 30 who have dropped out of school are now able to complete their compulsory 9-year education. Today there are 5 second chance schools in operation, in Athens (Peristeri, Menidi), Patra, Thessaloniki and Heraklion-Crete, and in the future there are plans to establish other similar schools. Second chance schools are established following a recommendation from the Institute of Continuing Adult Education (IDEKE) in collaboration with the competent local government authorities in order to ensure the proper conditions for running such schools.

In the last three years, in the framework of operation of the Employment Observatory (PAEP) of the Labour Force Employment Organisation (OAED), which is considered to be the competent national body for mapping out and pursuing policies on employment and the labour force, annual studies have been carried out for the purpose of identifying labour supply needs. The results of those studies constitute the base on which the vocational training programmes to be implemented are organised and planned. It should be noted that the particularities displayed by the structure of the Greek economy, as well as any imperfections/inadequacies in the procedure for identifying the real needs for supply of labour (e.g. lack of regular studies to evaluate the content of the training programmes being implemented) both contribute to the provision of training programmes, mainly in the subject areas of IT and economy/management. In any event, studies to date (labour force studies/PAEP studies) on Greece do not confirm the opinion that demand for manual skills is falling.

From time to time various measures have been implemented to boost employability and career profiles of workers in traditional branches of industry most exposed to the challenges of restructuring of production and the intensification of international competition. Examples are the cases of training provided to redundant workers at Schiesser-Palco and Goodyear. Similar initiatives include the so-called Integrated Interventions in individual sectors and occupations, such as the cases of workers in the Perama shipbuilding and ship repair zone and in fur processing. These initiatives have been funded from a variety of sources, such as the Community Support Framework, the Regional Development Programmes and the Account for Employment and Vocational Training (LAEK).

At times, the social partners and the government have established various forms of cooperation. A characteristic example is the new operational programme for LAEK and the programme on active ageing being implemented through the national Economic and Social Council in the framework of the Community Initiative EQUAL.

5. Balance between working and family life

Maintaining a balance between working life and life outside of work is a growing challenge for individuals, and especially for those with families. How far is this being achieved successfully in practice in your Member State?

According to the report from the National Thematic Network on Reconciliation of Family and Work, more measures must be taken in order to effectively reach the goal of balancing working and family life (Mouriki 2005, GR0609029I ). Nevertheless, the Report notes that parallel supplementary actions towards this end, such as the creation of all-day schools and children’s creative activity centres, as well as the programmes designed in the context of the Community Initiative EQUAL, have indisputably stimulated the interest of the state and the social partners in the issue of reconciliation in recent years. Similar interest is provoked by the specific regulations of the National General Collective Labour Agreement (EGSSE) for the years 2004-2005 and the current agreement for the 2006-2007 period. More specifically, the 2004-2005 EGSSE contains more favourable provisions on the use of the right to shorter working hours to care for underage children. Similarly, Article 7 of the current EGSSE stipulates that the social partners agree to take up actions aimed at reinforcing female employment and helping workers carry out their family and work obligations. Characteristic examples of actions are the promotion of legislation on payment of monetary compensation to workers taking parental leave and extending leave for breastfeeding.

In Greece the model for organising and allocating working time continues to be characterised by homogeneity and repeatability. According to a study by Kretsos (2005), the vast majority of the country’s workforce usually works in the context set by the norm of the 40-hour/5-day week. At the same time the implementation of alternative forms and practices for organising and regulating working time is extremely rare and fragmentary, and the state’s relevant recommendations are unacceptable to enterprises. One characteristic example is the case of enacting working time arrangements by means of four consecutive laws, arrangements that continue to be applied only in an extremely small number of enterprises. Furthermore, according to an ad hoc study by the Statistical Service carried out in 2001 on the forms of working time organisation, the percentages of people employed with fixed working hours (fixed beginning and end of work) stood at 86.2% of the Greek labour market as a whole. Similarly, the percentage of employees with flexible working hours stood at only 13.8%, a fact that demonstrates the predominance of fixed working hours in the Greek labour market.

Public policy is mainly restricted to integrating the content of equality-related Community directives and combating workplace discrimination when it is detected and a complaint is brought to the competent bodies. The Greek state secondarily finances, in line with the Community initiative EQUAL and other national development programmes, various proposals for actions, which are usually carried out in the context of development partnerships between the private and public sectors. Nevertheless childcare provision remains extremely low in comparison to other EU member states (less than 10% for children below three years old) and far below the specific Barcelona targets. Essentially Greece and Italy have the lowest coverage rates followed by a number of new member states (European Childcare Strategies, Statistical Annex). Furthermore according to estimated childcare statistics he childcare coverage rate for the second age group of Barcelona (3 years old to mandatory school age) Greece in association with Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia has the lowest scores. An important reason for that has to do with the fairly limited or even non-existent role of employers in the provision of child care services as the majority of such services are publicly provided. It should be noted though that according to the law 2082/92 companies employing more than 300 employees are obliged to set up and operate with their own funds child care services for their employees.

From time to time in the daily and electronic press reference is made to the serious problem of traffic congestion in the urban centres, which is responsible for a significant loss of workers’ time. The issue of unsocial working hours came strongly to the surface on the occasion of recently passed legislation extending the opening hours of shops and food stores(GR0509103f, GR0312102f). It should be noted that weekend and evening work is now registered as typical weekly working time for a percentage of workers in individual sectors and occupations that is rather high by European standards. This fact is due in part to structural factors in the Greek economy, such as high employment rates in the sectors of agriculture and tourism/catering, where working hours are determined not so much by the provisions of collective regulations as by the requirements of the production process, and also to widespread violation of labour legislation (Evans et al. 2001, Corps of Labour Inspectors (SEPE) annual reports)

(Lefteris Kretsos, INE/ GSEE).

Bibliography - Sources:

Evans, J. M. & Lippoldt D. C. and Marianna, P. (2001) Trends in working hours in OECD countries, Labour Market and Social Policy Occasional Papers No 45, OECD, Paris

Greek Economic and Social Committee (OKE) “Opinion regarding the Green Paper of Commission on modernising labour law”no.170, Athens: http://www.oke.gr

Kouzis, I. (2002) Employment and industrial relations in Greece: Reality – Trends – Perspectives, INE Notebooks, special issue, Athens, October.

Kouzis I.(2005) “Flexibility Employment and Jobs Quality” in Karamesini M. & Kouzis. I (eds) Employment Policy, Gutenberg: Athens.

Kouzis I. & Kretsos L. (2006) “The synergy of European Employment Policy in the crisis of the European social model” in Industrial Relations Outlook, vol. 43 June, Special Edition: Athens.

Kretsos, L. (2005) Reorganisation of working time in a deregulated labour market: The Greek case, Doctoral thesis, Athens, Panteion University of Social and Political Science

Kretsos L. (2006) “Changes and discontinuities on Working Time in Greece in Enimerosi, vol. 130, July - August, INE/ GSEE: Athens, http://www.inegsee.gr/enimerwsi-main.htm

Mouriki, A. (2005) Project Results: National Thematic Network Reconciliation of family and working life, EQUAL Community initiative, Ministry of Employment and Social Protection

OECD (2005) Employment Outlook, Paris: OECD

Corps of Labour Inspectors (SEPE) SEPE Progress Report annual reports 2001-2005

Lefteris Kretsos, INE/GSEE

Annex – Country data

Place of work and work organisation EU27 EL
q11f. Working at company/organisation premises 72.8 52.6
q11g. Teleworking from home 8.3 7.1
q11j. Dealing directly with people who are not employees (e.g. customers) 62.4 63.0
q11k. Working with computers 45.5 29.3
q11l. Using internet/email for work 36.0 22.0
q20a_a. Short repetitive tasks of <1m 24.7 23.1
q20a_b. Short repetitive tasks of <10m 39.0 35.0
q20b_a. Working at very high speed 59.6 73.3
q20b_b. Working to tight deadlines 61.8 68.4
q21a. Pace of work dependent on colleagues 42.2 45.8
q21b. Pace of work dependent on direct demands from customers, etc. 68.0 72.3
q21c. Pace of work dependent on numerical production/performance targets 42.1 44.4
q21d. Pace of work dependent on automated equipment/machine 18.8 18.2
q21e. Pace of work dependent on boss 35.7 42.4
q22a. Have to interrupt a task in order to take on an unforeseen task 32.7 38.7
q24a. Can choose/change order of tasks 63.4 58.7
q24b. Can choose/change methods of work 66.9 59.6
q24c. Can choose/change speed of work 69.2 73.7
q25a. Can get assistance from colleagues if asked 67.6 61.0
q25b. Can get assistance from superiors/boss if asked 56.1 46.2
q25c. Can get external assistance if asked 31.6 25.6
q25d. Has influence over choice of working partners 24.2 35.5
q25e. Can take break when wishes 44.6 50.0
q25f. Has enough time to get the job done 69.6 67.9
q26a. Task rotation 43.7 51.0
q26b. Teamwork 55.2 52.2
q31. Immediate boss is a woman 24.5 19.7
Job content and training    
q23a. Meeting precise quality standards 74.2 58.2
q23b. Assessing quality of own work 71.8 68.5
q23c. Solving unforeseen problems 80.8 75.0
q23d. Monotonous tasks 42.9 58.1
q23e. Complex tasks 59.4 57.0
q23f. Learning new things 69.1 61.9
q25j. Able to apply own ideas in work 58.4 56.8
q27. Job-skills match: need more training 13.1 14.1
q27. Job-skills match: correspond well 52.3 46.5
q27. Job-skills match: could cope with more demanding duties 34.6 39.5
q28a1. Has undergone paid-for training in previous 12 months 26.1 13.1
Violence, harrassment and discrimination    
q29a. Threats of physical violence 6.0 4.5
q29b. Physical violence from colleagues 1.8 1.6
q29c. Physical violence from other people 4.3 2.5
q29d. Bullying/harassment 5.1 9.2
q29f. Unwanted sexual attention 1.8 2.0
q29g. Age discrimination 2.7 4.2
Physical work factors    
q10a. Vibrations 24.2 30.6
q10b. Noise 30.1 34.9
q10c. High temperatures 24.9 44.5
q10d. Low temperatures 22.0 39.0
q10e. Breathing in smoke, fumes, powder or dust, etc. 19.1 27.3
q10f. Breathing in vapours such as solvents and thinners 11.2 11.3
q10g. Handling chemical substances 14.5 18.2
q10h. Radiation 4.6 5.4
q10i. Tobacco smoke from other people 20.1 37.2
q10j. Infectious materials 9.2 11.5
q11a. Tiring or painful positions 45.5 66.2
q11b. Lifting or moving people 8.1 5.7
q11c. Carrying or moving heavy loads 35.0 41.3
q11d. Standing or walking 72.9 75.0
q11e. Repetitive hand or arm movements 62.3 76.8
q11m. Wearing personal protective clothing or equipment 34.0 18.5
Information and communication    
q30b. Consulted about changes in work organisation, etc. 47.1 51.9
q30c. Subject to regular formal assessment of performance 40.0 42.6
q12. Well-informed about health and safety risks 83.1 77.0
q32. Consider health or safety at risk because of work 28.6 50.8
q33. Work affects health 35.4 68.1
q33a_a… hearing problems 7.2 10.3
q33a_b... problems with vision 7.8 11.2
q33a_c... skin problems 6.6 15.7
q33a_d… backache 24.7 47.0
q33a_e… headaches 15.5 35.4
q33a_f… stomach ache 5.8 18.7
q33a_g… muscular pains 22.8 45.7
q33a_h… respiratory difficulties 4.7 14.8
q33a_i… heart disease 2.4 2.7
q33a_j...injury(ies) 9.7 23.8
q33a_k...stress 22.3 55.3
q33a_l...overall fatigue 22.5 58.5
q33a_m...sleeping problems 8.7 17.2
q33a_n...allergies 4.0 11.1
q33a_o...anxiety 7.8 35.3
q33a_p... Irritability 10.5 27.3
q35. Able to do same job when 60 58.2 40.5
q34a_d. Absent for health problems in previous year 22.9 14.1
q34b_ef. Average days health-related absence in previous year 4.6 2.8
Work and family life    
q18. Working hours fit family/social commitments well or very well 79.4 57.9
q19. Contacted about work outside normal working hours 22.1 12.1
ef4c. Caring for and educating your children every day for an hour or more 28.8 32.7
ef4d. Cooking and housework 46.4 37.5
Job satisfaction    
q36. Satisfied or very satisfied with working conditions 82.3 59.9
q37a_ef. I might lose my job in the next 6 months 13.7 20.9
q37b_ef. I am well paid for the work I do 43.2 32.3
q37c_ef. My job offers good prospects for career advancement 31.0 27.0
Structure of workforce    
q2d_ef. Seniority (mean years) 9.7 11.3
Working time    
q8a_ef. Mean usual weekly working hours 38.6 45.4
q8b. % usually working five days per week 65.1 51.0
q9a. % with more than one job 6.2 10.1
q13_ef. Daily commuting time (return, in minutes) 41.6 40.1
q14e_ef. Long working days 16.9 25.9
q16a_a. Work same number of hours each day 58.4 67.1
q16a_b. Work same number of days each week 74.0 83.4
q16a_c. Work fixed starting and finishing times 60.7 64.7
q16a_d. Work shifts 17.3 13.0
q17a. % with less flexible schedules 65.3 62.5
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