Time for labor changes

The National Employment Committee, chaired by Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos, on Thursday will take up the burning issue of irregularities in pay for overtime work. Most people agree that action is overdue. «Illegal overtime is plenty. Employers would pay anything to fulfill their obligations,» says a well-known entrepreneur and member of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), asking: «Who can say how much overtime employment really costs? The law is mainly applied by large units which pay up to an additional 150 percent of the hourly wage. Chaos, however, reigns in smaller companies.» The problem is even recognized by the unions. It was the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) which last May agreed with SEV to jointly submit to the ministry an amendment to the law so as to lift bureaucratic approvals for overtime from the 40th to the 45th hour weekly. After all, it is not the best-kept secret that making overtime employment clauses stricter has led many businesses to extend illegal flexibility in the employees’ contract. A SEV study found that the overtime system used since spring 2001 has brought about a 12 percent increase in labor costs The meeting on Thursday will raise the curtain for a dialogue on working hours, as the minister announced last Thursday. This coincides with the opening of the matter by Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis. Nevertheless, neither the official demands of the last few days, the setting up of the committee, nor the initial agreement between GSEE and employers’ groups are enough to secure significant changes. GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos, asked by Kathimerini whether he would side with the amendment on the overtime regulation, put forth two conditions: «That the ministry’s proposals be defined in relation to the development targets of the Greek economy and boosting employment, and that the change in the status of overtime work be linked to the reduction of the hours of weekly labor.» Just as in the social insurance issue, in the field of labor relations all sides recognize that conditions for change are ripe. The two ministries have a golden opportunity to handle two of the thorniest matters and make political gains. For the time being, however, the tactics they are following are not convincing. At any rate, the way Alogoskoufis tackles the open issues of social insurance in banks and state companies will determine the outcome of the overtime issue. On the issue of labor relations and, more specifically, on the issue of overtime and the ineffective regulation of arrangements for work hours, the coincidence is positive for another reason: Both GSEE’s and SEV’s presidents are soon to leave their posts. Before departing, they would like to seal the opening of the new cycles with an agreement to support competitiveness in business. Of course, there are many more things that could be done that are inexcusably delayed. A simple example is that many jobs related to modern technology have been taken off the list of unhygienic and hazardous employment for purposes of insurance. There are sectors where technology has located or isolated danger factors created by working conditions in the last decade. The list of heavy and unhygienic jobs is supposed to have been on the table for two years, to no avail so far.

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