Unemployment as the focus for collective bargaining at national level

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In recent years pressure has mounted on all parties involved to rethink and revise the traditional policies and practices of Greek industrial relations as well as to promote social dialogue between employers and employees. As a result of changing conditions, some believe that a new era in industrial relations and social dialogue has been inaugurated in Greece.

One of the main factors in the changing focus of Greek industrial relations has been the reform of the legal framework of collective bargaining. Law 1876/1990 on free collective bargaining has replaced Law 3239/1955, a basic feature of which had been state intervention. This new legislation has defined the concept of collective bargaining and so has introduced new elements into the processes involved.

A basic implication of the new legislation is that employers and employees may now negotiate over a wide range of topics, rather than just strictly defined economic issues. As a result, the collective bargaining agenda has completely altered and new areas of interest have been promoted between the social partners.

Collective bargaining and unemployment

Continually rising unemployment, which has stood at over 10% of the economically active population for the last few years, has created the need for action and initiatives on the part of employers and unions. In this context, the problem of unemployment was one of the first new issues to be tabled on the collective bargaining agenda, and as such has formed the focus of National General Collective Agreements (EGSSE s). These agreements cover the whole of the private sector, as well as the public sector (though not public administration).

The first unemployment-related measures appeared in Article 4 of the EGSSE for the years 1991/2, and covered a special employer's contribution towards vocational training. Article 3 of the EGSSE for 1993 provided for an extra contribution from both employers and employees towards assistance for programmes designed for unemployed people. Its purpose was essentially to prioritise the fight against unemployment by improving vocational training through specifically dedicated financial contributions.

In the 1994/5 EGSSE, the signatories declared their intention to apply fully Articles 3 and 4 of the 1993 EGSSE and to proceed rapidly to the passage of relevant legislation with the support of the Ministry of Labour.

Legislative backing for the EGSSE

In the light of this background, Law 2224/1994 established two special funds to finance specific actions in the area of employment and vocational training - the Special Fund for Programmes for Vocational Training and Education (ELPEKE) and the Special Common Fund for Unemployment (EKLA) .

ELPEKE is funded by an employer's contribution of 0.45% of basic pay (as agreed in the 1991/2 EGSSE). These contributions finance vocational training and educational programmes as well as programmes and activities covering health and safety at work. The fund is managed by a nine-member committee consisting of the director of the Labour Force Employment Organisation (OAED) - a body supervised by the Ministry of Labour - four representatives from the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), two from the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), one from the General Confederation of Greek Small Businesses and Trades (GSEVEE) and one from the Federation of Greek Commercial Associations (EESE).

This law also provides, amongst other things, for the financing of the Greek Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (ELINIAE). This is a bipartite institute created by the 1991 EGSSE, following consultation over the sensitive issue of the high rate of accidents at work in Greece.

EKLA is funded by a further employer contribution of 0.26% of basic pay, along with an additional employee contribution of 0.10% of basic pay. These funds finance programmes designed to aid unemployed people, and particularly the long-term unemployed, unemployed young people, unemployed women and those who live in areas characterised by high rates of joblessness. They also finance programmes for the reintegration of unemployed people back into the productive working population. The fund is managed by a nine-member committee, consisted of equal numbers of representatives of the organisations mentioned above.

Law 2434/1996 on Policy Measures for Employment and Vocational Education and Training has now merged the two funds into one, called the Fund for Employment and Vocational Training (LAEK). The principal aim of this merger was to finance combined programmes in the area of employment creation and training on the labour market, as well as to develop a more rounded and global approach to the various forms of activity in the area. To ensure fulfilment of this goal, a committee of consultants advises on the management of the fund.

Employer and employee contibutions remain the same while the management of the Fund has been placed in the hands of an integrated management committee consisting of four representatives from GSEE and four designated by the employer organisations (SEV, GSEVEE, EESE); it is chaired by the director of OAED, and advised by consultants, as noted above.

Commentary

The content of law 2434/1996 is based on agreement between the employer and employee organisations through the EGSSE. This is important because it emphasises the critical role of mature social dialogue between the social partners in securing agreement that collective bargaining is an appropriate means for dealing with a matter as serious as unemployment. It can be seen as an act of social solidarity between employers and unions.

However, this is not the first time that unemployment has been the focus of social dialogue. The very first statement of the Economic and Social Committee (OKE), a body representing broad social interests established by Law 2232/1994, centred on the Law on Policy Measures on Unemployment and Increasing Employment.

The LAEK initiative is now up and running, with relevant organisations taking various forms of action to put the available funds to good use. The extent to which the new legal framework and the agreed measures will prove to be fruitful and effective in combating unemployment will now, it is expected, be revealed. (Eva Soumeli, INE-GSEE)

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