ECONOMY

Greece is slow at adopting flexible working hours

How much time does it take between the pilot testing of a new arrangement of working hours in a European country until its adoption in Greece? In this case, the rearrangement of the working week that is, about 30 years, according to a study published by the Labor Institute (INE) of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE). (The rearrangement of working hours arose from the need to take into account a company’s production peaks and troughs. Employers must work a certain number of hours per year but their weekly working hours vary according to the production cycle.) The flexible working week regime was first tried in Europe in the mid-1970s at Swedish papermills. This served as a blueprint for sectoral agreements in Great Britain, in the early 1980s. But, as the study’s authors note, in both cases «the idea of a fixed number of annual working hours was coupled by a move toward working hour reduction.» In Sweden, the average working week for night-shift workers at the papermills was reduced from 40 to 36 hours between 1975 and 1977. In the UK, in the same sector, the average working week was reduced from 40 to 39 hours in 1982. The need for more flexibility in working hours was reiterated by then-European Commission President Jacques Delors in the White Paper on Employment, Competitiveness and Growth, published in December 1993, and in the decisions of the EU Lisbon Council (March 2000), which set the ambitious target of making the EU the most technologically advanced and competitive economy by 2010. In Greece, despite a 2001 law allowing a limited form of working week flexibility, and two subsequent legislative amendments, this reform has barely caught on. Only five enterprises have adopted this measure. The Ministry of Labor is now considering passing yet another piece of legislation in the autumn to address issues such as overtime and the maximum number of peak season working hours allowed. The INE study shows that working hour flexibility has spread across the rest of the EU. In Denmark, France, Germany and Spain, about a third of employees work under some kind of flexible working hour regime. In Spain, up to 20 percent of employees do. Some form of annual working hour regime is also part of most collective employment agreements in Italy. In Great Britain, a pioneer in adopting the measure, the number of employees with flexible working hours is surprisingly low (4.9 percent). The trend, however, points toward an ever-wider adoption of flexible work regimes.