Union opposes changes in collective labour legislation
Following the economic crisis and the accession of Greece to the Budgetary Stability Mechanism, individual and collective labour laws have been radically altered. The Act of the Council of Ministers number 6/2012 was issued in February 2012, reducing the minimum national wage and abolishing sectoral collective labour agreements. The Greek General Confederation of Labour filed a petition, heard last December, for annulment of the Act and a decision is expected soon.
The accession of Greece in 2010 to the Financial Stability Mechanism established by euro zone Member States, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) led to a series of significant modifications to the country’s labour legislation.
The first focal point of the reforms was Law 3845/2010, to which was attached the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 3 May 2010 by Greece and the Troika – the European Union (EU), the ECB and the IMF (GR1005019I). The bill gave legal force to the conditions for the Troika’s support of the Greek economy that had been set out in what is now generally referred to as Memorandum Number 1.
In the two years following the first memorandum, more than 10 new laws on labour issues were passed, introducing consecutive amendments to almost all aspects of individual and collective labour law (GR1006019I, GR1007019I, GR1102029I, GR1109029I, GR1202019I).
The second focal point of recent labour law reforms was Law 4046/14.2.2012, which introduced the provisions of a second Memorandum of Understanding into Greek law (GR1203019I) after the country sought further financial help from the euro zone countries.
Cabinet Act no. 6/28.2.2012 was then issued, specifying in detail the modifications made under Law 4046 to employment relations.
In November 2012, Law 4093/2012, ‘Approval of the medium-term financial strategy framework for the period 2013–2016 – urgent measures pertaining to the implementation of Law 4046/2012 and of the medium-term financial strategy framework for the period 2013–2016’ was passed, introducing the provisions of a third Memorandum of Understanding into Greek law (GR1212019I).
Trade union intervention
Trade unions representing employees in both the private and public sectors have made many attempts to intervene in changes to labour laws since the crisis began. Complaints were submitted to national and international judicial authorities, questioning whether the new measures were compatible with the Greek constitution and with international labour agreements.
The Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), the Supreme Administration of Public Servants’ Unions (ADEDY), the General Union of Personnel of the Public Power Company (GENOP-DEI) and the Federation of Private Employees of Greece (OIYE) have submitted a complaint to the Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labour Organization (ILO). The Committee’s 365th Report referred to the Greek case.
ADEDY filed a complaint to the Supreme Administrative Court of Greece (StE) against labour reserve measures, alleging that they infringe the constitutional principle of the lifelong appointment of public servants and are therefore contrary to both the national constitution and international and European legislation. This case has not yet been adjudicated.
Challenge taken to the Council of State
A complaint submitted by the GSEE to the Council of State was heard in December 2012, although its judgment has not yet been made public.
The GSEE claimed that the laws passed to address the crisis were in breach of the Constitution. Its claim was that Cabinet Act number 6, cutting private sector salaries and reforming the collective labour relations system, infringes the constitutionally protected institutions of collective bargaining and collective labour agreements.
The Act of the Council of Ministers number 6/2012 provides for:
- the reduction of the national minimum wage for workers in the private sector under the National General Collective Labour Agreement by 32% for workers under 25 years of age, and by 22% for other employees;
- a ban on making new collective labour agreements for an indefinite term, and a limit of three years on the maximum period for which a collective labour agreement can be valid;
- the abolition of a series of collective labour agreements and arbitration awards, effective from 14 February 2013;
- the abolition of the ‘continuing effect’ of collective labour agreements, which retains the agreed modifications to a contract even after the collective agreement ceases to have effect;
- a ban on one party to an industrial dispute unilaterally deciding to take a case regarding the conclusion of a collective employment agreement to the Organisation for Mediation and Arbitration (OMED).
Views of GSEE
In its challenge to Act no. 6/2012, the GSEE argued that it establishes limited trade union rights for Greek workers and imposes wage cuts that will reduce the already meagre and overtaxed income of workers to a level well below the threshold of decent living standards, and even below the poverty threshold for some.
At the same time, the Act will lead to even deeper recession, the GSEE argues. This in turn will lead to the closure of hundreds of thousands of enterprises, causing further job losses.
The most damaging consequence of the Act, however, says the GSEE, is that the measures it introduces will destroy the collective regulation of working conditions. Wages and institutional working conditions will be covered only by individual employment contracts.
The Act removes basic trade union rights, depriving them of their collective autonomy and of the right to strike despite the fact that this right is set out in article 23, paragraph 2 of the Constitution. The union argues that ‘while the Act does not explicitly remove the right to strike, it sets up a series of barriers and prohibitions that effectively make a legal strike all but impossible’.
The GSEE commented that:
without ensuring the operation of the system of collective bargaining, the trade union right loses its primary field of operation, while the regulation of working conditions is transferred from the collective to the individual field and individual employment contracts.
The GSEE stressed that while case law in the European Court of Justice has made it clear that trade union rights are fundamental for all Member States, Greece was witnessing the formation of a labour code in which trade union rights could no longer be exercised.
Sofia Lampousaki, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE)