Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Railways sector – Greece

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 07 December 2008


The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the railways sector in Greece. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining. The study is divided into two parts: the first part deals with railway transport operations, based on research carried out in 2006; the second part focuses on rail infrastructure based on research completed in 2007.


The collective agreement signed on behalf of railway employees is a company-level rather than a sectoral agreement, since – at the time of writing – only one state-controlled company operates in the whole sector. In this context, the question of representativeness is limited to the representativeness of the primary trade unions in the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Railway Workers (Πανελλήνια Ομοσπονδία Σιδηροδρομικών, POS).

Part 1 – Railway transport operations

1. Sectoral properties

Table 1: Profile of rail transport operations
  1993 2006**
Number of companies 1 1
Total employment* 11,830 7,637
Male employment* 11,225 7,002
Female employment* 605 635
Aggregate employees 11,830 7,637
Male employees 11,225 7,002
Female employees 605 635
Aggregate sect oral employment as % of total employment in economy 0.3% 0.2%
Aggregate sect oral employees as % of total number of employees in economy 0.5% 0.2%

Notes: * Employees plus self-employed persons and temporary agency workers. ** Or most recent data.

2. The sector’s unions and employer associations

In Greece, no sectoral-level collective agreement is signed in the railways sector. This is due to the fact that only the Hellenic Railways Organisation (Οργανισμός Σιδηροδρόμων Ελλάδος, OSE) provides railway services. OSE together with its subsidiaries constitute a state-controlled corporation or société anonyme (SA). Therefore, the only collective agreement existing in the sector is the OSE company-level labour agreement, which is signed between the company management and POS.

POS covers all employees in OSE and its 11 subsidiaries; membership is voluntary. The 20 trade unions operating and active in POS cover individual categories of employees at regional or local level, as well as occupational groups. For example, POS members include the railway employee unions in the Peloponnese region in southern Greece and the southern Attica region, encompassing the capital city of Athens, as well as the suburban rail employee unions and the stationmasters’ unions. POS is a member of Greece’s national-level trade union organisation, the Greek General Confederation of Labour (Γενική Συνομοσπονδία Εργατών Ελλάδας, GSEE), as well as of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). In parallel, a POS representative sits on the company’s board of directors, as well as the following committees and organisations:

  • National Dialogue Council on Employment;
  • Regional Employment Councils;
  • Economic and Social Council.

Similarly, OSE and its subsidiaries are members of the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (Centre européen des entreprises à participation publique et des entreprises d’intérêt économique général, CEEP) and the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies (CER). In addition, OSE has representatives on the executives of ETF and ITF.

3. Inter-associational relationships

No disputes or antagonistic relations have been noted within the trade unions active in OSE. From time to time, disagreements arise among the trade union groups over regulations and decisions by OSE management and the competent state services, or over the range of demands put forward with a view to concluding the collective agreement.

4. The system of collective bargaining

The regulations emanating from the collective agreement cover all OSE staff. The collective bargaining process follows the following successive steps.

  • All of the primary or local-level trade unions submit their demands to POS, which is the second-level trade union organisation of railways sector employees.
  • POS discusses the demands of the primary unions in the executive council and decides the issues that will be raised in bargaining with OSE management.
  • After successive meetings between the POS executive and OSE management, a one or two-year company-level collective agreement (ΕθνικήΣυλλογικήΣύμβασηΕργασίας ESSE) is signed.
  • The ESSE agreed on and signed by the representatives of both sides – enterprise and employees – is submitted to the Labour Inspectorate of Athens Prefecture, and enters into effect on that date.
Table 2: Sector-related multi-employer wage agreements
Bargaining parties Purview of sector-related multi-employer wage agreements
Sectoral Type of employees Territorial
OSE and POS Yes All categories No

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies

The competent Ministry of Transport and Communications is in close contact with OSE management with regard to current problems of performance and improvement of the rail network and the services which it provides. In parallel, POS participates in two tripartite national bodies, which consult and deliver opinions on employment and development issues: the Economic and Social Council and the National Council on Employment.

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

The trade unions comprising POS represent specific occupational categories and geographical areas. According to the number of their members, they elect a proportional number of representatives to the POS executive. The POS executive and primary unions are elected through the balloting processes followed in each instance. Members of the executive come from specific political or union factions, which have direct links to the country’s main political parties.

7. Commentary

The process of collective bargaining in the railways sector does not show any particular problems and may be described as rather advanced compared with the course and results of collective bargaining in other sectors of the Greek economy. Another feature is that the collective agreements of the last few years have had a term of two years rather than one year; the latter is customary in most cases. Moreover, indicative of the relatively harmonious industrial relations is the fact that industrial action in the railways sector has usually been sparked by plans proposed by the competent ministries for restructuring OSE or reforming industrial relations in state-controlled enterprises, rather than by unilateral decisions and regulations by OSE management. Nevertheless it is worth noting that, as reforms in the area of industrial relations and the railways sector proceed, the task of the collective bargaining system will become increasingly demanding.

Part 2 – Railway infrastructure

The railways sector in Greece has recently embarked on a period of substantial restructuring, prompted by the state’s decision to transform OSE into a holding company and divide its tasks among subsidiary companies, each of which is responsible for one of the fields of service provision in which the parent company is active. The Greek state is the sole shareholder in OSE and has assigned the transport sector, including railway infrastructure, to it.

OSE employees have discerned behind this restructuring plan a desire on the part of the government to privatise OSE’s profitable services. This development could be detrimental to industrial relations, because new works rules would be adopted in the newly created subsidiaries. After OSE’s conversion into a holding company, its new organisational structure was put into effect at the beginning of 2007, and the process of approving the organisational structures of its subsidiaries by their boards of directors was completed in early July 2007.

1. Sectoral properties

At the beginning of 2007, OSE was transformed into a holding company with the parent company and four subsidiaries covering the whole range of services which, up to the end of 2006, had been covered by OSE as the only company in the sector. The sole shareholder of the four companies is OSE, whose sole shareholder is the Greek state.

OSE’s four subsidiaries are the National Administrator of Railway Infrastructure (EDISY), ERGOSE, Passenger and Freight Transportation Services (TRENOSE) and GAIAOSE.

EDISY administers the use of the national railway infrastructure. It is responsible for its maintenance and for managing associated investments, and attends to the improvement and expansion of the rail infrastructure. In addition, it sets prices and collects fees for the use of the relevant infrastructure from the railway companies using it.

TRENOSE provides railway transport services for passengers and goods, and has responsibility for routing trains. This company includes the engineers, ticket checking staff, on-board and administrative personnel. Proastiakos S.A., whose purpose is to facilitate transport in the large urban centres, has become part of TRENOSE.

ERGOSE administers OSE’s investment programme, which is co-financed by the European Community Support Framework and the EU Cohesion Fund. ERGOSE is responsible for the planning, study, tender preparation and evaluation, supervision and quality control of co-financed OSE projects, as well as for the delivery of completed projects to OSE for exploitation.

GAIAOSE is in charge of the exploitation of OSE’s real estate. GAIAOSE merged with the company Emporevmatika Kentra S.A., which was also a subsidiary of OSE in the field of real estate.

The above summary indicates that the company responsible for railway infrastructure is EDISY.

Table 3: Profile of rail infrastructure (NACE 63.21)
  1993* 2006
Number of companies 1 (OSE as a company) 1 (OSE as a company. On 1 January 2007, OSE became a holding company with four subsidiaries. One company, EDISY, is active in the rail infrastructure sector)
Total number of employees No data 9,363
Male employees No data 7,991 (85% of total)
Female employees No data 1,372 (15% of total)
Total number of jobs as % of employment in economy No data 0.2%
Total number of employees in the sector as % of total number of employees in economy No data No data
Total number of jobs No data No data

Note: For the years before 2006, the Labour Force Survey of the National Statistical Service of Greece cannot produce an analysis on a three-digit sector of economic activity, because the relevant information has not been collected. NACE = Nomenclature générale des activités économiques dans les Communautés européennes (General industrial classification of economic activities within the European Communities).

Source: ESYE, Labour Force Survey, 2006

As regards the statistical record of employment in the railway infrastructure sector, certain aspects should be noted. According to POS, the statistical records kept by the National Statistical Service of Greece (Εθνική Στατιστική Υπηρεσία της Ελλάδος, ESYE) – on the basis of NACE 63.21 – referring to 9,363 employees include all workers in the OSE group, and not specifically those who work in rail infrastructure. POS estimates that the number of people working in infrastructure is 6,000 workers and that, in 1993, infrastructure workers numbered approximately 8,500 persons.

According to the POS estimates, in 2006 about 300 of the 6,000 workers in infrastructure were administrative personnel, whereas the respective figure for 1993 was 500 workers.

Based on ESYE data, female employees – according to NACE 63.21 – comprised 15% of the sector. However, POS reports that the proportion of women in infrastructure is only 2%.

2. The sector’s unions and employer associations

A total of 18 primary trade unions and one second-level union – POS – are active in the railways sector. Membership of the unions is voluntary. Among the trade unions, five are strong: the four regional railway workers’ unions that were created on the basis of geographical location and the engineers’ union. With regard to representation of workers in infrastructure, the vast majority belong to the four regional trade unions. No separate sectoral union exists for the rail infrastructure sector.

Within their union, members are not separated on the basis of employment status.

All OSE workers are organised in the trade unions; therefore, union density is almost 100%. Although all of the women are union members, due to their low numbers they are not represented to any significant extent in the trade union organisations.

POS is a member of GSEE. It is also worth noting that the primary unions are members of the local labour centres. POS is a member of ITF and ETF. The federation has the exclusive right to conclude collective agreements in OSE.

On the employer side, the OSE administration appoints a group to bargain with POS in order to conclude the company-level agreement.

In its capacity as an employer, OSE is a member of CER.

3. Inter-associational relationships

As already mentioned, on the trade union side, only POS has the right to sign company-level collective agreements, and the primary unions have the right to notify the federation and the administration of the demands of the staff whom they represent. According to POS, no rivalry or antagonism has been noted among the individual trade unions.

It should be noted that the current POS leadership plans to examine the possibility of transforming the existing trade union structure in the sector into a form which it considers to be more effective and capable of meeting the new needs created when the new OSE subsidiaries were established. In other words, POS would like to create one union for each company or OSE subsidiary – as a company-level union – with POS playing an executive guiding role.

4. The system of collective bargaining

The company-level agreement at OSE concluded between the OSE administration and POS covers all workers, regardless of whether they are members of one of the OSE unions. The company-level collective agreements signed from time to time address not only pay issues but also various non-pay issues, such as the General Works Rules (GEKAP-OSE), the Staff Working and Rest Hours Rules, and the Supplementary Pay Rules. When the current company-level agreement was signed on 11 May 2006, provision was made for extending the application of the agreement to staff in the OSE subsidiaries that were then being established (GR0606019I). The Greek government’s plan to convert OSE into a holding company was already common knowledge at the time when EU Directive 2001/12/EC amending Council Directive 91/440/EEC on the development of the Community’s railways was incorporated into national law in 2005.

The company-level collective agreement provided that, in the subsidiaries being set up – apart from the company-level agreements concluded between POS and the management of each separate company – the Works Rules and Staff Rules applying to other OSE employees would also be in effect. Trade union officials regard the enshrinement in law of the right of POS to sign collective agreements with the new companies as a positive development. This means that less risk will arise of dividing the staff based on whether they have more or fewer employment rights in the various subsidiaries in which they work.

The collective bargaining process is composed of distinct successive stages. POS invites the representatives of the primary trade unions to submit the demands of the categories of employees whom they represent. Usually, each of the primary unions submits a basic pay and non-pay demand. This produces the overall framework of demands of POS, which is used to terminate the current agreement. Bargaining then follows with the special OSE bargaining team that has been set up for that purpose. The negotiations end when agreement is reached on the content of a new company-level collective agreement, which is signed by both sides and is national in scope.

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies

In effect, the government does not ask for the opinion of OSE management or the trade union organisations on matters concerning policymaking in the railways sector. As union officials have pointed out, the consultation provided for companies of a social nature like OSE is chiefly operational in nature; OSE is among the state-run utilities and enterprises whose services are of vital importance for the community.

In addition, no bipartite social dialogue bodies have been put in place for matters pertaining to the progress of the sector. Workplace health and safety issues are monitored by the bodies provided for, which function in the company on the basis of labour legislation: these include health and safety committees, a safety officer and an occupational doctor. The health and safety committees comprise worker representatives who have been elected for this purpose.

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

No special statutory rules set the criteria for representativeness. The rules determining the ability of a trade union organisation to conclude collective agreements are laid down in Law 1876/90. In OSE, an employee works council – the Central Works Council – is in operation, whose members are elected by OSE workers by universal ballot carried out on the basis of trade union groups. The Council’s competences are limited, and mainly concern its involvement and consultation in health and safety matters.

7. Commentary

The creation of new companies in the railways sector – albeit OSE subsidiaries – which are able to sign separate company-level agreements, has introduced a new situation for the competent representative bodies. Despite the fact that a company-level agreement has been signed providing for recognition of POS as the representative body in OSE’s new operational structure, the worker representatives remain cautious about future developments. As they explain, the management of the new companies may well change their attitude as regards support for the creation of new trade unions within those enterprises – unions that will sign separate collective agreements. This may lead to the division of OSE staff, which was once a unified whole, on the basis of benefits which differ from one subsidiary to another.

Although the climate of exchange of views and dialogue between the parties involved in the railways sector appears to be confirmed at regular intervals with the signing of company-level collective agreements, one factor – apart from anything that may be taking place as the subsidiaries come into operation – may exacerbate relations between employers and employees. This factor concerns the provisions of Law 3429/05 regarding state-run utilities and enterprises, which stipulate that in the event of negative operating results an enterprise may proceed with new staff rules and new organisational structures, with a view to making the best use of staff. In practice, this would entail the loss of a range of workers’ benefits and a deterioration of industrial relations. At any rate, such provisions have not yet been implemented in any of the loss-making state-run utilities and enterprises – of which OSE is one of the worst performers – following strong opposition from the trade unions, although it is not certain that the relevant provisions will not be implemented in the future.

Lefteris Kretsos and Stathis Tikos, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE)

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