Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July 2014, 13:56 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Greece

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Greece, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8894c2d.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 11,359,000
Capital: Athens

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Arrests: 15

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

All events in Greece have been overshadowed by the severity of the country's financial and economic crisis, which has led to a sharp fall in living standards. Trade unions have also felt the impact as reforms demanded by the EU and IMF in return for assistance bite.

Background

Politics in Greece has been dominated by the country's ongoing debt crisis, which reverberated around Europe in 2011. Severe austerity measures, demanded by the EU and IMF, have been implemented to tackle the crisis, resulting in a sharp fall in living standards. Far from addressing problems, the programme seems to be pushing Greece towards economic and social collapse at an exponential rate. Every economic indicator has worsened. The economy has shrunk by about 20% since 2008 – the deepest recession since World War II – and is expected to shrink further by about 25-30% to wartime levels over the coming years. More than one in ten jobs has been destroyed. Unemployment stands at 21% and the total number of unemployed exceeds one million, with GDP declining at 5%. Youth unemployment reached 51.1%.

The government of George Papandreou fell in November and he was replaced by former central banker Lucas Papademos at the head of an interim government of national unity. The drive to solve the crisis has had an impact on the way trade unions operate and has also had an impact on workers, pensioners and their families due to loss of income as a result of job losses, successive wage and pension cuts as well as the imposition of continuously heavy direct and indirect taxation. Workers and trade unions have also experienced serious institutional disempowerment due to the far-reaching measures of structural labour market adjustment.

Trade union rights in law

Basic trade union rights are guaranteed, although with certain limitations. The law stipulates that workers have the right to form and join trade unions without prior authorisation. Police have the right to organise and to hold demonstrations, but not to strike. Twenty members are required to form a trade union, which constitutes a restriction to the right to organise given the prevalence of small enterprises in the Greek labour market (approximately 90 per cent of the workforce).

Collective bargaining is also recognized, although the law stipulates that retirement-related matters are excluded from the scope of collective agreements and permits the unilateral denunciation of collective agreements concerning the supplementary pension funds of bank employees. In the context of the economic crisis, the government adopted measures that further restrict the right to collective bargaining: iIn 2010, the principle of the most favourable treatment for the worker was abolished and provisions allowing direct State intervention in the system of free collective bargaining and industrial relations framework were adopted. In 2011, further provisions were adopted allowing employers at the enterprise level to withdraw from the application of sectoral collective agreements, thereby nullifying the binding nature of collective agreements. Furthermore, other measures empower associations of persons to conclude collective agreements at enterprise level where no trade unions operate given the minimum membership requirement to form a union (20). This is likely to seriously undermine the position of trade unions as the representative voice of the workers in the collective bargaining process. In the current framework, the fact that associations of persons can only be constituted in enterprises where there are no unions provides no guarantees for workers' choice of representation given that unions cannot legally be formed in enterprises of fewer than 20 workers.

Although workers in general enjoy the right to strike, it is limited for public servants, employees of local government agencies and judicial officials, as well as in enterprises of public nature or of public benefit if deemed vital to serving the basic needs of the society. In addition, the criteria for declaring a strike illegal are vague, as the courts issue their rulings after weighing the opposing interests of workers and employers, assessing the broad implications of the strike and applying the proportionality principle. All strikes must be called by recognised trade unions, and wildcat strikes are prohibited.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

The debt crisis and its impact on trade union rights:

Greece was at the centre of the European debt crisis throughout 2011. While attention has focused on the consequences for the Greek economy, welfare state and social security system, the crisis has also had a significant impact for trade unions and how they can operate.

In a bid to reduce its debt, and with membership of the eurozone precluding any opportunity to devalue its currency, the Greek government – pushed by the memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (the 'troika') has instead had to pursue an 'internal devaluation', i.e. reducing wages and living standards sharply. For example, working hours were extended throughout the public sector from June 2011.

This situation has had consequences in terms of trade union rights in relation to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Changes were introduced to the rules on collective bargaining in October 2011, with the new system prioritising enterprise level bargaining and not just sectoral or occupational agreements. It has also allowed associations of persons to enter into bargaining agreements, a measure targeted at smaller enterprises.

Union bodies, including the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), have regarded some of these moves as destabilising the industrial relations framework and weakening the role of trade unions. The chairperson of the Economic and Social Council of Greece has also stated that social dialogue has not really had a chance, as the dynamics of the crisis have hindered progress.

Diminished role for unions in collective bargaining:

The General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) believe that the conditions set out in the Troika's Memoranda have been aimed at abolishing the system of minimum standard-setting through collective agreements, a system that has served Greece by maintaining social stability and promoting development for over 20 years. Furthermore, the recent significant interventions in the system of collective bargaining have been aimed at reducing wages in the private sector and essentially replacing collective bargaining not simply with enterprise agreements but with individual contracts.

Discussions between the government and the Troika to effectively eliminate the extension of sectoral collective agreements have taken place despite the support expressed for them by both trade unions and employers' organisations. The introduction of the special enterprise collective agreements by Act No. 3899/2010 was a first step in the direction of weakening sectoral agreements so as to reduce wages without providing guarantees for workers.

According to the GSEE, the intention of the government and the Troika to eliminate the role of trade unions in the collective bargaining process was reflected in the possibility of allowing atypical "associations of persons" that were not trade unions to conclude special enterprise collective agreements. The role of trade unions in concluding collective agreements on working time arrangements had already been undermined and an "association of persons" entitled to conclude such collective agreements. The government began preparing to build on this measure by allowing for the conclusion of enterprise collective agreements without the presence of a trade union so as to facilitate the negotiation of such agreements in medium, small and very small enterprises, which constitute 99% of Greek enterprises and had been covered until then by sectoral collective agreements. The law did not allow for the creation of trade unions in enterprises with less than 50 employees, hence the intention to allow collective agreements to be negotiated with informal "associations of persons" created on an ad hoc basis, i.e., with individuals that the employer would essentially invite for discussion without any guarantees of independence.

This situation has disempowered the Greek unions, and has been further compounded by changes to the system of arbitration and mediation. The High Level Mission of the ILO, which visited Greece in September 2011 expressed deep concerns about these changes to the "detriment of social peace and society at large".

Reinforcement of employers and their managerial prerogative: The conditions set out in the Troika's Memoranda have also increasingly reinforced the employers and their managerial prerogative. According to the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), this has created an unfair playing field for trade unions and workers. The main measures include: the introduction of the "labour reserve" concept in the public sector as pre-dismissal, the possibility for the employers to unilaterally impose reduced term rotation work and suspension (nine and three months respectively): the drastic increase in the collective dismissal threshold (reduction of severance pay, shortening of notice period) as well as an extension of the trial period of employment (to one year) without severance pay in the event of dismissal; the abolition of the payment of the total amount of severance pay (bi-monthly instalments); the facilitated dismissal of older workers close to retirement and the extension of the duration of temporary agency work to three years from 12+6 months.

Violations

Trade union leaders arrested: On 24 November 2011, the Greek police arrested Nikos Photopoulos, president of the power workers' union GENOP/DEI, along with some 14 other trade union activists. They were charged following a sit-in at a power company's computer centre, held to protest against the Greek austerity measures, which include imposing a swingeing property tax levied regardless of income or wealth, and cutting off power to people unable or unwilling to pay it. They were due to appear in court on 10 January 2012 to face charges that could see them jailed for up to five years. The General Confederation of Greek Workers, GSEE, is calling for the charges to be dropped.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld

Countries