Thousands of Greek public sector workers have marched towards the Greek parliament to protest against proposed changes to the country’s labour laws by the conservative government of prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The one-day strike, on Thursday (21 September), was prompted by a parliamentary discussion over a new labour law. One that comes as the government’s (delayed) response to a 2019 European directive aimed at establishing transparent and predictable working conditions.
The bill has just been passed with 158 votes in favour and 136 against. New Democracy, Mitsotakis’ party, was the only one to vote in favour.
For workers in sectors such as education, health and transport, however, the Mitsotakis government (which has a parliamentary majority) has failed to understand the significance of this measure, which gives member states leeway to transpose the directive into national law as long as it meets the stated objectives.
So what is this bill all about? Among other things, it will allow full-time workers to have a part-time second job and to work up to 13 hours a day. In other words, up to 65 hours a week (5-day week) or 78 hours (6-day week).
It also sets out the conditions for a six-day week, if necessary.
The sixth working day is mainly intended for sectors such as heavy industry and tourism, for which the bill also aims to abolish Sunday rest days — in order not to hire new workers, said Syriza opposition MP Theano Fotiou in a speech in the Hellenic parliament.
Under the Mitsotakis government’s proposal, employers will be able to offer new workers a probationary period of up to six months and dismiss them during the first year without compensation or notice (unless otherwise agreed).
In addition, those who prevent workers from going to work during strikes will be punished with fines and even jail-time.
“Under the guise of harmonizing an EU Directive, the Greek government’s proposed bill, brought before the Greek Parliament yesterday, essentially aims at the further deregulation of labour relations in the country,” MEP Kostas Arvanitis (Syriza/The Left) told EUobserver.
For the unions that called the strike, such as ADEDY, the largest public sector union in Greece, these changes go against the basic rights of workers and that is why they have demanded the withdrawal of this bill.
For the conservative government, the bill is a way of combating undeclared work, offering flexibility and boosting employment in general.
It is therefore introducing provisions for the creation of so-called ‘on-call’ contracts (zero-hour contracts), where working time is no longer included in the terms of the contract, a point that employers are obliged to communicate to their workers.
“The proposed law does not adhere to and does not respect neither the Greek Constitution nor the European acquis,” Tilemachos Dafnis, Greek lawyer and advisor at CESI told EUobserver.
Klaus Heeger, its secretary general, added: “We find the proposed changes to labour provisions for Greek public sector personnel worrying”.
The public sector in Greece was already in dire straits. ADEDY recalled that labour shortages affect critical sectors of the welfare state, such as health and education.
“On average, the entire public sector has shortages that exceed 40 percent of organic positions,” dijo Dimitris Bratis, EU member de ADEDY.
Mitsotakis’s party, New Democracy, has been in power since 2019 and was re-elected a few months ago. The party has restored the minimum wage, which now stands at €910 per month, but unemployment rates remain among the highest in the Union (especially among the youngest).
“We need attractive employment in public services to attract and retain highly qualified talents and close labour shortages,” Heeger said. “In Greece, if enacted, the proposed law would counteract these objectives”.