Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Greece

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 26 February 1999
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Greece, 26 February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa6114.html [accessed 12 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.
Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy in which citizens choose their representatives in free and fair elections. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (pasok) holds a majority of parliamentary seats, and its leader, Constantine Simitis, has been Prime Minister since 1996. The New Democracy Party is the main opposition party. The judiciary is independent.

The national police and security services are responsible for internal security. Civilian authorities maintain effective control of all security forces, and police and security services are subject to a broad variety of restraints. Some members of the police and security forces nevertheless committed human rights abuses.

Greece has a market economy with a large public sector that accounts for some 40 percent of gross domestic product. Residents enjoy a relatively advanced standard of living. Greece is a large net recipient of funds from the European Union, designed primarily to raise per capita gross domestic product.

The Government respected the human rights of most citizens; however, problems remained in some areas, although there was notable progress in others. Security force personnel sometimes abused suspects and illegal aliens. The Government continued to take corrective action to relieve severe overcrowding and harsh living conditions in some prisons. Despite religious leadersâ acknowledgment of a general improvement in government tolerance, some restrictions on freedom of religion persisted; police continued to arrest members of non-Orthodox religions for proselytizing. However, the Government created a program of alternative military service for conscientious objectors. It sometimes placed human rights monitors, non-Orthodox religious groups, and minority groups under surveillance. In a significant step, the Government formally abolished Article 19 of the Citizenship Code, which had been used to revoke the citizenship of Greeks who are not ethnically Greek. Although the Government has used Article 20 of the Citizenship Code to revoke the citizenship of some Greek citizens abroad who asserted a "Macedonian" ethnicity, no such cases were reported during the year. Discrimination against ethnic minorities continued to be a problem. The Government formally recognizes only the Muslim minority specified in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne; it refuses to acknowledge formally the existence of any other ethnic groups, principally Slavophones, under the term "minority." As a result, some individuals who define themselves as members of a minority find it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture.

In September a government Ombudsmanâs office was opened. In December a National Committee for Human Rights was commissioned formally.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

A Romani man was killed in Partheni in April when he refused to stop his car for inspection. Police claimed that they exchanged gunfire with the subject in self-defense. A trial of the policemen involved was pending at yearâs end.

In September a botched hostage rescue operation in Athens resulted in the death of the hostage victim. The hostage-taker subsequently died in a hospital under suspicious circumstances. The chief of police who was in charge of the operation resigned in December. In December a public prosecutor charged seven doctors with manslaughter based on the medical treatment that the prisoner received.

In November a policeman shot a foreign student accused of purse snatching at point blank range. The policeman was charged with first degree murder. A trial date had not yet been set by yearâs end.

In 1996 a Romani man was shot and killed by a police officer while lying face down on the pavement at a police roadblock in Livadia. The officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but there was no resolution of the case by yearâs end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution specifically forbids torture, and a 1984 law makes the use of torture an offense punishable by a sentence of 3 years' to life imprisonment. This law has never been invoked. However, security force personnel sometimes abused suspects during arrests and interrogations and abused illegal aliens. Police also abused Roma (see Section 5).

In July two Albanian teenagers arrested for theft accused police officials of beating them while in custody. One revealed burns in addition to bruises. Albanian diplomats reported the condition of the teenagers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In August an investigation by the Ministry of Public Order found the police innocent of any abuse.

In May two Romani teenagers claimed that they were beaten while in police custody for attempting to steal ice cream from a kiosk. A trial was pending at yearâs end.

In the 1996 case of five policemen who beat a man in Iraklion, four of the officers were suspended from duty for 15 days. Charges filed by the individual were still pending trial at yearâs end. The court dismissed the charges in a 1996 incident in Thessaloniki in which police were accused of beating a man charged with robbery.

Conditions in some prisons remained poor due to substantial overcrowding and outdated facilities. As of September 17, the Ministry of Justice reported that the total prison population was 7,129 (of whom approximately 3,221 were foreigners), while total capacity of the prison system was 4,332.

Throughout the summer, detainees at the Drapetsona police detention center staged hunger strikes to protest conditions described by a human rights organization as "lack of adequate exercise, lack of natural daylight, insufficient toilet and bath facilities, severely limited access to medical treatment and no access to social services." The detainees are all non-European Union citizens awaiting deportation.

In September the Minister of Justice dismissed the prison inspector for "insufficient performance" of his duties.

The Ministry of Justice contracted for renovation of existing prisons, solicited bids for construction of 9 new prisons, and announced the hiring of 1,300 prison guards (to replace police who currently guard prisons). Construction is proceeding on a new center for the rehabilitation of narcotics addicts; it is scheduled to open in early 1999. The center is designed to house 350 inmates and is to cooperate with the organization for combating narcotics (Okana) to provide detoxification and rehabilitation programs for inmates.

The Government is inconsistent in permitting prison visits by nongovernmental organizations (NGOâs).

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution requires judicial warrants for all arrests, except during the actual commission of a crime, and the law prohibits arbitrary arrest orders. Police must, by law, bring persons who are arrested on the basis of a warrant or while committing a crime before an examining magistrate within 24 hours. The magistrate must issue a detention warrant or order the release of the detainee within 3 days, unless special circumstances require a 2-day extension of this time limit.

Defendants brought to court before the end of the day following the commission of a charged offense may be tried immediately, under a "speedy procedure." Although legal safeguards, including representation by counsel, apply in speedy procedure cases, the short period of time may inhibit the defendant's ability to present an adequate defense. Defendants may ask for a delay to provide time to prepare their defense, but the court is not obliged to grant it. The speedy procedure was used in less than 10 percent of misdemeanor cases. It does not apply to felonies.

The effective maximum duration of pretrial detention is 18 months for felonies and 9 months for misdemeanors. Defense lawyers complain that pretrial detention is overly long and overused by judges. A panel of judges may grant release pending trial, with or without bail. Pretrial detainees made up 28.5 percent of those incarcerated, contributing to overcrowding problems, according to Government sources. A person convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to 2 years or less may, at the court's discretion, pay a fine instead of being imprisoned.

Exile is unconstitutional, and no cases have been reported since the restoration of democracy in 1974. In a significant step, the Government repealed Article 19 of the Citizenship Code in June (with effect retroactively to January when the Government introduced the legislation). This article had permitted the Government to deprive Greek citizens of non-Greek ethnic origin who traveled outside Greece of their citizenship and refuse them readmittance. Human rights groups sought to make the repeal even more retroactive and have encouraged the Government to facilitate individuals' application to reacquire citizenship. Human rights monitors estimate that there are between 400 and 1,200 individuals who lost citizenship under Article 19 and who continue to reside in Greece. Members of the Muslim community noted that a number of these persons have succeeded in reacquiring citizenship (also see Section 2.d.).

Article 20 of the Citizenship Code, which permits the Government to strip citizenship from those who "commit acts contrary to the interests of Greece for the benefit of a foreign state," remained in force. The Government did not provide statistics on citizens affected by this article in 1998, but no cases were reported publicly during the year. In the past those affected were citizens abroad who asserted a "Macedonian" ethnicity (also see Section 2.d.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary; it is independent in practice.

The judicial system includes three levels of courts, appointed judges, an examining magistrate system, and trial by judicial panels.

The Constitution provides for public trials, and trial court sessions are open to the public, unless the court decides that privacy is required to protect victims and witnesses, or the cases involve national security matters. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the standard of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to present evidence and call witnesses, the right of access to the prosecution's evidence, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to counsel. Lawyers are provided to defendants who are not able to afford legal counsel only in felony cases. Both the prosecution and the defense have the right of appeal.

Defendants who do not speak Greek have the right to a court-appointed interpreter. The low fees paid for such work often result in poor translation. Foreign defendants who depend on these interpreters frequently complain that they do not understand their trials.

The legal system does not discriminate against women or minorities, with some exceptions: the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs may base its decision on "house of prayer" permit applications by non-Orthodox groups on the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop (see Section 2.c.); non-ethnic Greek citizens are prohibited legally from settling in a large "supervised zone" near the frontier (although this prohibition is not enforced in practice); and a 1939 law (also not enforced in practice) prohibits the functioning of private schools in buildings owned by non-Orthodox religious foundations.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits invasion of privacy and searches without warrants, and the law permits the monitoring of personal communications only under strict judicial controls. The efficacy of these safeguards remains an open question. The security services continued to monitor human rights groups (see Section 4), non-Orthodox religious groups, minority group representatives, and foreign diplomats who met with such individuals. On several occasions the press published information about such private meetings. Human rights activists reported suspicious openings and diversions of mail. As far as is known, the Government took no steps to stop such practices or to prosecute those involved.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice, but with exceptions. Legal restrictions on free speech remain in force and were used in some cases by the Government.

Articles of the Penal Code that can be used to restrict free speech and the press include Article 141, which forbids exposing the friendly relations of the Greek state with foreign states to danger of disturbance; Article 191, which prohibits spreading false information and rumors liable to create concern and fear among citizens and cause disturbances in the country's international relations and inciting citizens to rivalry and division, leading to disturbance of the peace; and Article 192, which prohibits inciting citizens to acts of violence or to disturbing the peace through disharmony among them. Those convicted in the past were allowed to convert their convictions into a fine of approximately $14 per day.

In September two journalists in separate cases were convicted and received 4-month and 8-month suspended sentences respectively on defamation charges for criticizing government ministers. Both cases are under appeal. In October two journalists charged in a 1997 case with espionage for publishing confidential government documents were acquitted.

The public prosecutor in Florina invoked these laws on several occasions in recent years, although not in 1998, in attempts to limit the Rainbow Party's use of Slavic names for Greek towns. In September a court declared innocent four officials of the Rainbow Party charged in 1995 with violating Article 192 when a bilingual sign hung outside party headquarters in Florina sparked a riot. The four stated that they intended only to inform the bilingual public of the existence of the office. A Rainbow Party official charged in 1996 under Article 191 for attempting to bring wall calendars into the country that identified Greek cities by their Slavic names was acquitted in November.

On matters other than the question of ethnic minorities, Greece generally enjoys a tradition of outspoken public discourse and a vigorous free press. Satirical and opposition newspapers routinely attack the highest state authorities. Members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities freely publish periodicals and other publications, often in their native language. The Constitution allows for seizure (though not prior restraint), by order of the public prosecutor, of publications that insult the President, offend religious beliefs, contain obscene articles, advocate violent overthrow of the political system, or disclose military and defense information. However, seizures have been rare; none occurred in 1998.

A dictionary of modern Greek published in May generated several lawsuits from individuals who found certain definitions offensive. In July a trial court in Thessaloniki ordered removal of one definition from future editions of the dictionary and threatened the author with a fine and imprisonment if he did not comply. The Supreme Court prosecutor suspended the decision pending review of the case by the Court later in the year. In February the Supreme Court upheld a 1997 appellate court ruling that sentenced Muslim journalist Abdulhalim Dede to a 6-month suspended sentence and 3 yearsâ probation for libel. Dede originally was charged in 1996 under Article 191 (on which he was acquitted) and libel laws for an article he wrote about extremist groups in Thrace.

The Constitution provides that the state exercise "immediate control" over radio and television. The state monopoly on radio and television ended in 1989, and a plethora of private stations quickly emerged. A 1995 law places ownership and technical frequency limits on the electronic media. The licensing of radio stations began in late 1996, and the licensing of television stations began in 1997. State-run stations tended to emphasize the Government's views but also reported objectively on other parties' programs and positions. Private radio and television stations operated independently of any government control over their reporting. Turkish-language television programs are widely available via satellite in Thrace.

Resolution of the television station Antenna's appeal of a $350,000 (100 million drachmas) fine imposed in 1997 by the National Radio and Television Council (NRTC) remained pending at yearâs end. The NRTC fined the television station and ordered it to suspend normal programming for 10 minutes daily for 5 days after an episode of the Antenna "reality show" allegedly caused a man accused of incest to commit suicide before its broadcast. The Ministry of Press and Mass Media approved the Council's decision.

The case of Radio Isik, a Turkish-language station in Komotini, charged with operating without a license in 1994 and 1995, is still pending.

In September Abdulhalim Dede, the Muslim owner of Radio Isik, was sentenced to 8 months' imprisonment for illegal construction when he erected a base for a new radio antenna intended to extend the range of the station. The sentence was suspended pending appeal. Dede charged that the Government arrested him in order to block expansion of the station's range, noting that the law under which he was convicted is violated widely and rarely, if ever, enforced.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. Police permits were issued routinely for public demonstrations, and there were no reports that the permit requirement was abused.

The Constitution provides for the right of association, which was respected except in cases involving ethnic minorities. In July the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that Greek courts had violated Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights by refusing to register the "Home of Macedonian Civilization" (as translated by the court) in Florina in 1990. The court rejected the Government's argument that registration of the organization represented a danger to Greece's territorial integrity and ordered the Government to pay monetary damages to the organizationâs founders.

Government authorities legally recognize the existence of the Muslim minority but not other minorities (see Section 5). The 1990 Copenhagen document of the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to which the Government is a signatory asserts, however, that "to belong to a national minority is a matter of a person's individual choice."

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ, to which 95 to 97 percent of the population at least nominally adhere, as the prevailing religion, and the Orthodox Church wields significant political and economic influence. The Constitution also provides for freedom of religion; however, non-Orthodox groups face administrative obstacles or legal restrictions on religious practice. The Constitution also prohibits proselytism. Two laws from the 1930's require that to hold services, "known" religious groups must obtain a "house of prayer" permit from the Ministry of Education and Religion, which by law may base its decision on the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop. No formal mechanism exists to seek recognition as a known religion. Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs officials say that they no longer obtain the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop when considering "house of prayer" permit applications. According to ministry officials, all pending applications have been issued. Leaders of minority religions noted a general improvement in government tolerance during the year, citing fewer arrests for proselytizing and the new conscientious objector law.

In February an appeals court upheld the 1994 conviction for usurpation of religious authority of a former Greek Orthodox cleric. The individual was defrocked in 1993 after asserting that he was a priest in a church not recognized as a "known" religion. The 1-year sentence was suspended pending appeal. He since sought permission to operate a place of worship, but the Government asserts that he did not file a valid application.

Several religious denominations reported difficulties in dealing with the authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Greek Orthodox Church are not extended routinely to other recognized religions. The non-Greek Orthodox churches must make separate and lengthy applications to government authorities on such matters as arranging appointments to meet with Ministry of Education and Religion officials and gaining permission to move places of worship to larger facilities.

A tax bill passed in 1997 created three new taxes on churches and other nonprofit organizations. Leaders of some non-Orthodox religious groups claimed that all taxes on religious organizations were discriminatory, even those that the Orthodox Church has to pay, since the Government subsidizes the Orthodox Church while other groups are self-supporting.

Religious instruction in public primary and secondary schools is mandatory for Greek Orthodox students. Non-Orthodox students are exempt from this requirement.

Police occasionally detained Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses after receiving complaints that the individuals were engaged in proselytism. In most cases, the individuals were held for several hours at a police station and then released with no charges filed. Many reported that they were not allowed to call their lawyers and that they were verbally abused by police officers for their religious beliefs. In February the European Court of Human Rights found Greece in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for convicting Protestants of proselytism in past cases. There were no prosyletism-related court cases during the year.

The trial of 15 members of the boards of Scientologist associations charged by the Government with "unprovoked factual insult" is scheduled for February 1999. The board members were charged in October 1996 following a police search of Scientology headquarters that revealed a file of press clippings on Greek opposition to Scientology.

Early in the year, four teachers were reinstated (three to their original positions and one to an administrative position) after a 1997 investigation by the Ministry of Education and Religion found that they had not proselytized their students. The teachers are members of the Church of Christians, a nondenominational Protestant church.

Although Jehovah's Witnesses are recognized as a "known" religion, in previous years the military consistently refused to exempt their clergy from mandatory military service. This practice was found to be in violation of Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights in two decisions reached in 1997. In January a law providing an alternative form of mandatory national service for conscientious objectors took effect. It provides that conscientious objectors may work in state hospitals or municipal services for 36 months. Conscientious objector groups generally characterized the legislation as a "positive first step" but criticized the 36-month alternative service term, which is double the regular 18-month period of military service. Since January all Jehovah's Witnesses, both clergy and laymen, who wished to submit applications for alternative nonmilitary service were permitted to do so. In one case, an application was submitted late and the applicant was instructed to appear for mandatory military service. The applicant appealed this decision; the results of the appeal are pending.

Mosques operate freely in Western Thrace and on the islands of Rhodes and Kos, where most citizens of the Muslim faith reside. Local officials delayed expansion of a mosque in Kimmeria, near Xanthi for over a year, at one point prosecuting 17 Muslim workman for ignoring a stop-work order. Under public pressure, officials relented in late 1997 and construction of the mosque was completed. Its minaret remained unfinished even after the building permit was approved, reportedly in response to objections from local Orthodox officials.

Differences remain within the Muslim community and between segments of the community and the government over the means of selection of muftis (Islamic judges and religious leaders with limited civil responsibilities). Under a 1990 presidential decree, the government appointed two muftis and one assistant mufti in Greece, all resident in Thrace. The appointments (made in 1991) were based on the recommendations of a committee of Muslim notables selected by the government. The government argued that it must appoint the muftis because, in addition to their religious duties, they perform judicial functions in many civil and domestic matters under Muslim religious law, for which the state pays them.

Some Muslims accept the authority of the two officially appointed muftis; other Muslims, backed by Turkey, have "elected" two different muftis to serve their communities (though there is no established procedure or practice for "election"). Three times in 1998 the Government convicted Mehmet Emin Aga, one of the "elected" muftis, of usurping the authority of the official mufti. Earlier convictions (eight over 3 years) against Aga were upheld on appeal on four occasions. All of the respective sentences remain suspended pending appeal. The other "elected" mufti, who was convicted in 1991 of usurping the authority of the official mufti, has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, where his case is pending.

Controversy between the Muslim community and the Government also continues over the management and self-government of the "wakfs" (Muslim charitable organizations) regarding the appointment of officials as well as the degree and type of administrative control. A 1980 law placed the administration of the wakfs in the hands of the appointed muftis and their representatives. In response to objections from some Muslims that this arrangement weakens the financial autonomy of the wakfs and violates the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, a 1996 presidential decree put the wakfs under the administration of a committee for 3 years as an interim measure pending resolution of outstanding problems.

Muslim activists complained that the Government regularly lodges tax liens against the wakfs, although they are in theory tax-free religious foundations. Recent legislation to create a national land and property registry requires the wakfs also to register all of their property with the government. The legislation permits the government to seize any property that owners are not able to document. To date the government has not sought to enforce either the tax liens or the registration requirement.

Some non-Greek Orthodox religious leaders assert that their followers face discrimination in reaching the senior ranks of government service. In the military, generally only members of the Greek Orthodox faith become officers, leading some members of other faiths to declare themselves Orthodox. Only two Muslim officers have advanced to the rank of reserve officer.

The Government took no action to implement or repeal a 1991 law mandating that citizens declare their religion on new standardized identity cards based on European Union (EU) standards, which could be used for internal EU travel. Current identity cards contain a space for religion that may be left blank.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution calls for freedom of movement within and outside the country and the right to return. However, Muslim leaders asserted that Muslims face administrative obstacles regarding their voter registration when seeking to change their legal residence within or to the region of Thrace.

In a significant step, the Government formally abolished Article 19 of the Citizenship Code, which had been repealed in June 1997. Article 19 was used to revoke the citizenship of Greeks who are not ethnically Greek (also see Section 1.d.).

However, another section of the Citizenship Code, Article 20, permits the government to strip citizenship from those who "commit acts contrary to the interests of Greece for the benefit of a foreign state." While the law as written applies equally to all Greeks regardless of ethnic background, to date it has been enforced in all but one case against citizens who identified themselves as members of the "Macedonian" minority. The Government would not reveal the number of Article 20 cases that it pursued in 1998, although there were no reports of such cases. Dual citizens who are stripped of Greek citizenship under Article 20 sometimes are prevented from entering the country using the passport of their second nationality.

The Government maintains restricted military zones along the countryâs borders. Authorities do not restrict Greek citizens from entering these zones, but in 1998 several foreigners were refused official permission to enter a restricted zone.

The Government offers asylum under the terms of the 1951 United Nations (U.N.) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. It cooperates with the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Implementation of 1996 legislation that abolished the requirement that asylum seekers submit their applications immediately after entering the country still is pending approval by the President.

Individuals recognized as refugees under the terms of the U.N. Refugee Convention are eligible for the residence and work permits necessary to resettle permanently. New legislation passed in June allows aliens who have submitted an application but have not yet been granted refugee status to work legally.

In the first 6 months of 1998, 1,757 individuals submitted applications for refugee status; 127 individuals were granted refugee status. Of those refused refugee status 246 were granted temporary residence on humanitarian grounds until return to their countries of origin becomes possible.

The Government usually does not recognize the concept of first asylum. Anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands of individuals from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran enter illegally each year; only a small percentage eventually apply for official refugee status. Some of those who do not apply remain illegally, often living in government camps where conditions vary from adequate to very poor. Others proceed on to Western Europe, often applying for asylum there. The Government does usually not seek out such individuals for deportation; since Greece and Turkey do not have a readmission agreement, the Government finds it practically impossible to deport individuals who enter Greece from Turkey.

During the last 5 months of the year, between 300 and 600 Iraqi Kurds set up camp in a square in central Athens. Activists and NGOâs charged that the Government was not providing adequate assistance to these individuals.

In December the UNHCR criticized the lack of a coherent, functioning asylum process and the fact that the Government continued to deport forcibly some potential asylum seekers back to their country of origin (or to the country from which they entered Greece) before they could submit formal applications for asylum. Human rights organizations state that this practice occurred more frequently in 1998 than in previous years, although precise figures are unavailable. In May and July, police deported approximately 110 Albanian workers (allegedly holding valid Greek visas) without explanation.

In January legislation was enacted allowing illegal immigrants to apply for legal status. Illegal immigrants could submit the preliminary application for legal status from January until the end of May. Approximately 350,000 illegal immigrants submitted applications and received a "white card." The white card enables them to reside and work legally in Greece on a short-term basis while meeting the other requirements necessary to obtain a "green card." The green card serves as a residence permit and allows the immigrants to live and work in the country for up to 5 years.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Greece is a multiparty democracy whose Constitution provides for full political rights for all citizens and for the peaceful change of governments and of the Constitution. The Government headed by Prime Minister Constantine Simitis of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) won in free and fair elections in September 1996. Parliament elects the President for a 5-year term. Voting is mandatory for those over age 18, but there are many conditions that allow citizens not to vote, and penalties are not applied in practice. Members of the unicameral 300-seat Parliament are elected to maximum 4-year terms by secret ballot. Opposition parties function freely and have broad access to the media.

Although there are no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in government or politics, representation of both at the higher levels of political life remains low. Women held 2 ministerial positions in the Government and only 1 of 29 subministerial positions. Of the 300 members of Parliament, 17 were women. Women are underrepresented in the leadership of the two largest parties. The head of the Communist Party is a woman.

While the Government generally respects citizens' political rights, there are sometimes charges that it limits the right of some individuals to speak publicly and associate freely on the basis of their self-proclaimed ethnic identity, thus impinging on the political rights of such persons. However, in the 1996 parliamentary elections three Muslim deputies were elected in Thrace, one each from PASOK, New Democracy, and the Coalition of the Left. Romani representatives report that local authorities sometimes deprive Roma of the right to vote by refusing to register them. However, Romani activists also report that some municipalities encourage Roma to register. Municipalities can refuse to register Roma who do not meet basic residency requirements, which many Roma have trouble meeting.

In 1996 the Government transferred responsibility for oversight of all rights provided to the Muslim minority under the Treaty of Lausanne (including education, zoning, administration of the wakfs, and trade) from elected local governors to the government-appointed periferiarch (a regional administrative official) of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. Minority members charged that the transfer reduced their ability to use the democratic process to influence decisions that affect them. They also charged that the transfer opened the possibility of unequal application of local laws, because it created a situation in which Muslims and non-Muslims must go to different government offices to apply for documents such as building permits. The Government stated that it made the change because the central authorities could administer Greeceâs treaty obligations more effectively.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government allows domestic human rights organizations to operate, but cooperation with them varies. In principle it does not prohibit foreign diplomats from meeting with officials and other citizens, including critics of official policy. However, the security services on occasion monitor contacts of human rights groups, including listening in on conversations held between those groups and human rights investigators and diplomats, and questioning contacts (see Section 1.f.). Monitors view this activity as a form of intimidation that deters others from meeting with investigators.

In July the Ministry of the Interior announced the establishment of a National Human Rights Committee, consisting of government officials and NGO representatives, that reports to the Prime Minister. The Committee, formally commissioned in December, monitors the human rights situation and drafts legislation on human rights issues. In September an "Ombudsmanâs" office was opened pursuant to a 1997 law to mediate differences that citizens and migrants encounter in their dealings with government offices. One of the four deputy ombudsmen is responsible for human rights issues.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for equality before the law and the full protection of individual life, honor, and freedom irrespective of nationality, race, language, or religious or political belief. Government respect for these rights in practice is uneven.

The Government formally recognizes only the Muslim minority specified in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. It refuses to acknowledge formally the existence of any other ethnic groups, principally Slavophones, under the term "minority." As a result, some individuals who define themselves as members of a minority find it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture.

Women

The incidence of violence against women that is reported to the authorities is low, but Athens' Equality Secretariat, which operates the only shelter for battered women, believes the actual incidence is "high." According to the Ministry of Public Order, 217 cases of rape were reported in 1997 compared with 183 cases in 1996. The General Secretariat for Equality of the Sexes (GSES), an independent government agency, asserts that police tend to discourage women from pursuing domestic violence charges and instead undertake reconciliation efforts, although they are neither qualified for nor charged with this task. The GSES also claims that the courts are lenient when dealing with domestic violence cases. Facilities for battered women and their children exist but are often inadequately staffed to handle cases properly.

Prostitution is legal. Prostitutes must register at the local police station and carry a medical card that is updated every 2 weeks. A Panteion University study reported that the number of foreign prostitutes quadrupled between 1991 and 1995. The study estimates the current number of prostitutes to be 16,000. In October and November, the media reported a series of scandals involving foreign women forced into prostitution. One woman was seriously injured after attempting to escape her situation by jumping from a fifth floor window. Another committed suicide after she allegedly called the police for help and was told to make a written complaint. In October nine police officers in western Greece were arrested and charged with harboring a criminal and abuse of power for protecting a nightclub owner who forced foreign women to work as prostitutes. In the same month, three police officers in northern Greece were charged with the same offense. In November 11 police officials were charged with improper issuance of residence permits to foreign women and protecting a brothel in Athens. The former chief of police was charged with dereliction of duty for the improper issuance of a residence permit to a foreign woman.

According to the police, trafficking in women for prostitution, mostly from the former Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, has increased sharply in recent years. The Ministry of Public Order reports that of the 221 foreigners arrested for prostitution without a license in the first 8 months of 1998, 85 were from Albania and 89 were from the former Soviet Union. According to the Panteion University study, 75 percent of foreign female prostitutes are not told why they are being brought to Greece. In 1997 police estimated that foreigners constituted 2,000 of the estimated 5,000 prostitutes in Greece. From August 1997 to August 1998, 221 foreign prostitutes were arrested for illegal prostitution.

In March a court in Patras sentenced a male supermarket manager to 10 monthsâ imprisonment for the sexual harassment of a female subordinate. The decision of the court marked the first ever penal sentence for sexual harassment in the country. Trade unions report that lawsuits for sexual harassment have been very rare: according to the unions, only four women have filed such charges in the past 2 years. In all four cases, the courts reportedly imposed very lenient civil sentences. The General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) womenâs section states that sexual harassment is a widespread phenomenon, but that women are discouraged from filing charges against perpetrators by family members and other coworkers.

Women enjoy broad constitutional and legal protection, including equal pay for equal work. However, the GSES and labor unions maintain that women receive lower salaries overall than men because they are hired for lower-level jobs. The National Statistical Service's most recent data (the second quarter of 1997) show that women's salaries in manufacturing were 70 percent of those of men in comparable positions; in retail sales, women's salaries were 87 percent of those of men in comparable positions. These same groups claim that women face a "glass ceiling" when they are considered for promotions in both the public and private sectors. Although there are still relatively few women in senior positions, in recent years women have entered traditionally male-dominated occupations such as the legal and medical professions in larger numbers.

According to a report by the womenâs section of the GSEE, 58.6 percent of the countryâs long-term unemployed are women, while women constitute only 38 percent of the work force. The report also noted that women are underrepresented in labor union decisionmaking centers; there are only 3 women on the 45-member board of directors of the GSEE, and only 133 of 2,067 top-level trade unionists are women. The report concludes that the underrepresentation of women is the reason that the womenâs section has failed to accomplish its major goals, including the establishment of a "women in trade unions network" and the enactment of trade union affirmative action programs.

Children

The Government is committed to providing adequate basic health and education services for children. Education is compulsory through the ninth grade and free through university. Penal law prohibits the mistreatment of children and sets penalties for violators, while welfare legislation enacted in 1992 established preventive and treatment programs for abused children and for children deprived of a family environment; it also sought to ensure the availability of alternative family care or institutional placement.

Several Government organizations have responsibility for children's issues. The National Welfare Organization, which has a nationwide network of offices, is active in the field of child protection. Legislation was passed late in the year to combine the National Welfare Organization with two similar entities in 1999. The Services of the new single organization are to be regionalized to provide greater access to child welfare services and funding prioritized according to regional needs. In November the Government created an Interministerial Committee for Youth and Children.

According to the Institute of Child Health (ICH), a research center under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, physical punishment is widely regarded as a socially acceptable method of disciplining children. In the most recent ICH study, 65 percent of mothers and 55 percent of fathers told surveyors that they punished their children physically. The use of such measures decreased over the years as parents learned about the benefits of alternative forms of punishment.

There is no societal pattern of abuse of children. No national data exist on the incidence of child abuse; local authorities are not required to report such cases. In a 10-year clinical study of 200 cases, the ICH reports that 59.5 percent involved physical abuse, 20 percent involved neglect, and 21 percent involved children who were not abused at the time but had a history of abuse. (The study did not cover victims of sexual abuse.) An ICH prevalence study of child sexual abuse among 740 university students revealed an incidence rate of 7 percent among boys and 17 percent among girls prior to age 18. Societal abuse of children in the form of pornography and child labor is rare. Child prostitution is a growing phenomenon, particularly in some parts of central Athens.

Child health specialists say that some social groups, such as Roma and illegal immigrants, are underserved. Children's rights advocacy groups claim that protection of high-risk children in state residential care centers is inadequate and of low quality. They cite a lack of coordination between welfare services and the courts, inadequate funding of the welfare system, and poor staffing of residential care centers as systemic weaknesses in the treatment of child abuse. Child health specialists note that the number of children in residential care facilities is decreasing, while the number in foster care is rising.

In recent years, the number of street children who panhandle or peddle at city intersections on behalf of adult family members or for criminal gangs has increased. In November the Ministries of Public Order and Welfare began to implement a plan to return the approximately 3,000 street children in Athens to their families or to place them in state institutions. According to the Ministry of Public Order, 78 percent of these children are Albanian, 12 percent are from other Balkan countries, and 10 percent are Romani. Parents can reclaim their children but risk deportation if they are illegal immigrants.

People With Disabilities

Legislation mandates the hiring of disabled persons in public and private enterprises employing more than 50 persons. However, the law reportedly is enforced poorly, particularly in the private sector. The law states that disabled persons should constitute 3 percent of staff in private enterprises. In the civil service, 5 percent of administrative staff and 80 percent of telephone operator positions are reserved for disabled persons. Legislation passed in June mandates the hiring of disabled persons in the public sector from a priority list. The disabled are exempt from the civil service exam. The Ministry of Labor announced in July the creation of 660 subsidized jobs for 3 years for the disabled. Persons with disabilities have been appointed to important positions in the civil service.

The Construction Code mandates physical access for disabled persons to private and public buildings, but this law too is enforced poorly. A recent survey showed that over 60 percent of public buildings are not accessible to persons with mobility problems. Ramps and special curbs for the disabled have been constructed on some Athens streets and at some public buildings, and sound signals have been installed at some city street crossings. Since 1993 the Government has been replacing old city buses with new ones with stairs specially designed for the disabled. The new Athens subway lines under construction reportedly are designed to provide full access for the disabled.

Religious MinoritiesIn April a bomb was discovered in front of the Athens offices of the Central Board of the Jewish Communities in Greece. The Government launched an investigation, but those responsible have not been found. In August a Jewish cemetery in Kavala was vandalized. An investigation into this incident (as is the case with a 1997 vandalization in Trikala) produced no results.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

An increase in xenophobia paralleled the increase in the number of non-Greeks living and working in the country. Antiforeigner sentiment is mainly directed against Albanians (who compose over three-fifths of the alien population). When the head of a small community in northern Greece attempted to impose a curfew on illegal Albanian immigrants in May, a superior authority immediately repealed it. Local officials in the Peloponnese publicly urged cafeteria owners not to serve Albanians and landlords to avoid renting to non-Greeks. The African community in Athens charged that the killing of a young Nigerian man who was selling watches near a stadium in April was a racist act. All political parties and human rights NGOâs condemned the act. The perpetrators are in jail awaiting trial for murder.

There are communities that identify themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites (who speak a dialect of Albanian), and "Macedonians" or "SlavoMacedonians." Most are fully integrated into society. The Government formally recognizes only the "Muslim minority" specified in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, applying the term to several different ethnic communities. Most of the Muslim minority (officially estimated at 120,000 persons) is ethnically Turkish or Turcophone and lives in western Thrace. The Muslim minority also includes Pomaks and Roma. Many Greek Muslims, including Pomaks, identify themselves as Turks and say that the Muslim minority as a whole has a Turkish cultural consciousness. While use of the terms "Tourkos" and "Tourkikos" ("Turk" and "Turkish") is prohibited in titles of organizations, individuals may legally call themselves "Tourkos." Use of a similar adjective, "Tourkoyennis" (of Turkish descent, affiliation, or ethnicity) is allowed. To most Greeks, the words "Tourkos" and "Tourkikos" connote Turkish identity or loyalties, and many object to their use by Greek citizens of Turkish origin. The 8-month prison sentences of a dozen Muslim teachers, convicted in 1996 for using the name "Turkish Teachers of Western Thrace" in a union document, remained suspended pending appeal.

The Treaty of Lausanne provides that the Muslim minority has the right to Turkish-language education, with a reciprocal entitlement for the Greek minority in Istanbul (now reduced to about 3,000). Western Thrace has both Koranic and secular Turkish-language schools. Government disputes with Turkey over teachers and textbooks caused these secular schools serious problems in obtaining faculty and teaching materials in sufficient number and quality. Under a 1952 educational protocol, Greece and Turkey may exchange annually 35 teachers on a reciprocal basis. The teachers serve in Istanbul and Western Thrace, respectively, but in recent years the Greek side limited the exchanges to 16 teachers per country due to the dwindling needs of the small and aging Greek population in Turkey. Muslim leaders in Western Thrace complained that the Government erected bureaucratic barriers to prevent the Turkish teachers from performing their duties for much of the academic year. In Greece over 8,000 Muslim children attended Turkish-language primary schools. An additional 150 attended 2 bilingual middle schools with a religious curriculum. Approximately 700 attended Turkish-language secondary schools, and approximately 1,300 attended Greek-language secondary schools. Many Muslims reportedly went to high school in Turkey due to the limited number of places in the Turkish-language secondary schools, which are assigned by lottery. Government incentives encourage Muslim and Christian educators to reside and teach in isolated villages.

The law permits the Minister of Education to give special consideration to Muslims for admission to universities and technical institutes. The law requires universities and technical institutes to create a certain number of places for Muslim students each year; 464 spaces were available in 1998. The admission exams were taken by 124 Muslim students, and 58 women and 54 men were accepted into universities and technical schools.

The rate of employment of Muslims in the public sector and in state-owned industries and corporations is much lower than the Muslim percentage of the population. In Xanthi and Komotini, while Muslims hold seats on the prefectural and town councils, there are no Muslims among the regular employees of the prefecture. Muslims in Western Thrace claim that they are hired only for lower level, part-time work. The Government says that lack of fluency in written and spoken Greek and the need for university degrees for high-level positions limit the number of Muslims eligible for government jobs.

Public offices in Thrace do their business in Greek; the courts provide interpreters as needed. The office of the nomarch (governor) in Rodopi province, where many ethnic Turks live, has Turkish-language interpreters available. A prosecutor in Rodopi issued instructions in 1997 to the Komotini registrar to stop accepting documents sealed by the government-appointed muftis unless the language of the documents was Greek and to reject as unsealed any documents bearing the Arabic-lettered seals used by the muftis for the last 70 years. The instructions were suspended after local Muslim officials complained.

Claims of discriminatory denial of Muslim applications for business licenses, tractor ownership, or property construction diminished greatly in recent years. However, the development of basic public services (electricity, telephones, paved roads) in Muslim neighborhoods and villages continues in many cases to lag far behind that of non-Muslim areas. Muslim leaders also asserted that the Government routinely withholds permission from Muslims seeking to change their legal residence, which determines where they vote, from rural to urban communities within Western Thrace or from elsewhere in Greece to Thrace. They said permission to change legal residency from western Thrace to elsewhere in Greece was granted readily, and charged that the practice was part of a government policy to encourage Muslim emigration from the region and to prevent the urban concentration of Muslims in Thrace.

Other than in one multicultural education "pilot school," the Government does not provide instruction in Greek as a second language to Turcophone children in the Athens area. Muslim parents report that their children are unable to succeed in school as a result of this policy. The Government maintains that Muslims outside of Thrace are not covered by the Treaty of Lausanne and therefore do not enjoy those rights guaranteed by the treaty.

The Government refuses to acknowledge formally the existence and "minority" status of ethnic groups, principally Slavophones, other than the Muslim minority specified in the Treaty of Lausanne. As a result some individuals who define themselves as members of a minority find it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. Northern Greece is home to an indeterminate number (estimates range widely, from under 10,000 to 50,000 or more) of citizens who are descended from Slavophones. Some still speak a Slavic dialect, particularly in Florina province. A small number of them identify themselves as belonging to a distinct ethnic group, which they call "Macedonian," and assert their right to minority status. (These self-described ethnic "Macedonians" are hereafter referred to as "Macedonians.") This assertion generates strong objections among the 2.2 million ethnically and linguistically Greek inhabitants of the northern Greek region of Macedonia, who also use the term to identify themselves. The Government refuses to recognize the Slavic dialect as "Macedonian" and denies that it is a language distinct from Bulgarian. Members of the minority assert that the Government pursues a policy designed to discourage use of their dialect. Greek sensitivity on this issue stems from concern that members of the "Macedonian" minority may have separatist aspirations. Greece's dispute with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over that country's name heightened this sensitivity.

Government harassment and intimidation of some of these people, which has included denying their right to association (see Section 2.b.), monitoring activists' meetings with human rights investigators (see section 2.d.), subjecting them to unusual searches and other harassment at border crossings, and accusing activists publicly of being agents of a foreign government, continued at a reduced level. In July a group calling itself the "Association of Refugee Children of Aegean Macedonia," based outside Greece, held a picnic in Edessa. It was the first time that the Government allowed such an event to take place. Approximately 75 of the 125 individuals who attempted to enter Greece for the picnic were admitted. The Government said that the others lacked necessary visas, although picnic organizers accused the Government of denying them admission for political reasons.

Roma frequently face discrimination in employment and in housing, particularly when attempting to rent accommodations. They experience police abuse more frequently than some other groups, including instances in previous years when police raided entire Roma camps based on a warrant to arrest one individual.

The General Secretariat for Adult Education (GSAE), a government agency, estimated the Romani population to be 150,000 to 200,000 in 1998. Nonofficial sources estimate the total at 250,000 to 300,000. Most of the Roma in Western Thrace are Muslim; elsewhere, the majority are Greek Orthodox. Almost half are permanently settled, mainly in the Athens area. The other half are mobile, working mainly as agricultural laborers, peddlers, and musicians throughout the country. The GSAE reports that the number of Roma who move around the country is decreasing gradually as families settle into slums in the suburbs of major cities.

A Romani man was killed on April 1 in Partheni, Thessaloniki, when he refused to stop his car for inspection. Police claimed that they exchanged gunfire with the subject in self-defense. A court hearing was pending at yearâs end. Amnesty International charged that in May two Romani teenagers were beaten while in police custody for attempting to steal ice cream from a kiosk. A trial was pending at yearâs end.

Romani representatives report that local authorities refuse to register Roma as legal residents in their municipalities. Until registered with a municipality, no citizen can vote or exercise other civic rights such as obtaining an official marriage, commercial, or driver's license or contributing to social security.

In August the mayor of Evosmos, Thessaloniki, ordered the eviction of 3,500 Roma from a location they had occupied for the past 30 years. The group subsequently was evicted from four other locations within the next 15 days. The Ministry of Defense allocated land and houses at a former army camp for the group to occupy for the next 5 years. Human rights monitors charge that the Government delayed renovating the camp in reaction to protests by neighboring residents who do not want the Roma in their vicinity. The Government provided funding to several other municipalities to transfer Roma settlements to new areas supplied with water, sewers, and electricity. It intends to provide portable mobile housing in addition to "non-mobile" housing for Roma who demonstrate financial need.

Government policy is to encourage the integration of Roma. The Prime Minister has designated a member of his staff to coordinate the efforts of all government ministries having a role in their integration. Poverty, illiteracy, and social prejudice nevertheless continue to plague large parts of the Romani population; these problems are most severe among the Roma who are mobile or who live in slums. Although the GSAE conducts education and training programs for them, the illiteracy rate among Roma is estimated at 80 percent. The Ministry of Education established a system of identity cards designed to permit students to change schools easily as their parents move and is developing a system of satellite schools for Romani settlements.

The integration of Roma into social security systems is quite low. It is estimated that 90 percent of Roma are not insured by the public social security systems, since they are unable or unwilling to make the required contributions. As are all qualified Greek citizens, indigent Roma are entitled to free health care. However, their access to health care is at times hindered by the fact that their encampments are located far from public health facilities.

In June the Ministry of Health and Welfare initiated several projects addressing the chronic problems of the Roma community. The projects include training courses for civil servants, policemen, and teachers to "increase sensitivity to the problems of the Roma," development of teaching materials for Roma children, and the establishment of youth centers in areas close to Roma communities. The Ministry has already established six such centers.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and subsequent legislation provide for the right of association. All workers, with the exception of the military, have the right to form or join unions. Police have the right to form unions but not to strike.

Approximately 30 percent of workers (nearly 1 million persons) are organized in unions. Unions receive most of their funding from a Ministry of Labor organization, the Workers' Hearth, which distributes mandatory contributions from employees and employers. Workers, employers, and the state are represented in equal numbers on the board of directors of the Workers' Hearth. Approximately 10 public sector unions have dues-withholding provisions in their contracts, in addition to receiving Workers' Hearth subsidies.

Over 4,000 unions are grouped into regional and sectoral federations and 2 umbrella confederations, 1 for civil servants and 1, the General Confederation of Greek workers (GSEE), for private sector employees. The GSEE and the ADEDY announced that they would merge in the next 2 years. Unions are highly politicized, and there are party-affiliated factions within the labor confederations, but day-to-day operations are not controlled by political parties or the Government. There are no restrictions on who may serve as a union official.

Legal restrictions on strikes include a mandatory period of notice, which is 4 days for public utilities and 24 hours for the private sector. Legislation mandates a skeleton staff during strikes affecting public services, such as electricity, transportation, communications, and banking. Public utility companies, state-owned banks, the postal service, Olympic Airways, and the railroads also are required to maintain a skeleton staff during strikes.

The courts have the power to declare strikes illegal, although such decisions are seldom enforced. However, unions complain that this judicial power serves as a deterrent to some of their membership from participating in strikes. In 1998 the courts declared a majority of strikes illegal for reasons such as failure of the union to give adequate advance notice of the strike or the addition of demands by the union during the course of the strike. However, no striking workers were prosecuted.

Unions are free to join international associations and maintain a variety of international affiliations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Legislation provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively in the private sector and in public corporations. These rights are respected in practice. There are no restrictions on collective bargaining for private sector employees.

In 1997 and 1998 civil servants were provided with the right to organize and bargain collectively with the Ministry of Public Administration. The civil servants confederation is to conduct official negotiations with the Ministry for the first time in 1999.

In response to union complaints that most labor disputes ended in compulsory arbitration, legislative remedies were enacted in 1989 that provided for mediation procedures, with compulsory arbitration as a last resort. Legislation in 1992 established a National Mediation, Reconciliation, and Arbitration Organization and applies to the private sector and public corporations (the military and civil service excluded).

Antiunion discrimination is prohibited. The Labor Inspectorate or a court investigates complaints of discrimination against union members or organizers. Court rulings have mandated the reinstatement of improperly fired union organizers.

Three free trade zones operate according to European Union regulations. The labor laws apply equally in these zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits all forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children, and the Ministry of Justice enforces this prohibition. However, the government may declare the "civil mobilization" of workers in the event of danger to national security, life, property, or the social and economic life of the country. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts has criticized this power as violating the standards of ILO Convention 29 on forced labor. In December, for the first time in 8 years, the Government invoked the Civil Mobilization Act to end a strike by customs officials.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Constitution contains a blanket prohibition of compulsory labor. Although no specific legislation explicitly prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.). The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15 years, with higher limits for certain activities. The minimum age is 12 years in family businesses, theaters, and the cinema. These age limits are enforced by occasional Labor Inspectorate spot checks and generally are respected. However, families engaged in agriculture, food service, and merchandising often have younger family members assisting them, at least part time.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Collective bargaining between the GSEE and the Employers' Association determines a nationwide minimum wage. The Ministry of Labor routinely ratifies this minimum wage, which has the force of law and applies to all workers. The minimum wage of $21.60 (Dr 6,492) daily and $483 (Dr 133,962) monthly, effective July 1, is sufficient for a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours in the private sector and 37¸ hours in the public sector. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of 1 month per year, and sets limits on overtime.

Legislation provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety. Although the GSEE has characterized health and safety legislation as satisfactory, it has charged that enforcement, the responsibility of the Labor Inspectorate, was inadequate. The Government passed legislation in June putting the Labor Inspectorate under a central authority in compliance with ILO Convention 81. Workers do not have the legal right to remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health. However, they have the right to lodge a confidential complaint with the Labor Inspectorate. Inspectors have the right to close down machinery or a process for a period of up to 5 days if they see safety or health hazards that they believe represent an imminent danger to the workers.

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