Labor issues surface

Employers and unions yesterday appeared to be heading for a clash over labor regulations, particularly concerning overtime work. Speaking at a session of the National Employment Committee meeting to discuss measures for boosting jobs and competitiveness, the chairman of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), Christos Polyzogopoulos, charged that attempts were being made to bypass the provisions of the National Collective Bargaining Agreement with employers. He said these manifested themselves in pressures for individual pacts in public utilities, such as OTE Telecom, and in large companies in the private sector such as Papastratos and Hellenic Shipyards. The Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), the employers’ main organization, called for the full implementation of a Community directive for flexible work-hour arrangements, according to which employers may demand up to a 65-hour week, and for a return to previous, lower overtime rates. Polyzogopoulos retorted that it was unacceptable that unions should be asked to discuss particular matters such as overtime work without a prior tackling of the major issue of the economic slowdown. «Wage costs in Greece are the lowest in the eurozone,» he argued. «The government should initiate dialogue on strengthening social cohesion and dealing with poverty.» Polyzogopoulos said the unions will not participate anymore in committees negotiating work hours and overtime pay, considering that the national pay pact’s provisions are sufficient. «We shall await the government’s overall proposals and will respond accordingly,» he said. According to the national pay pact in force, employers may ask workers to put in up to five hours of overtime weekly, but this is widely violated. Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos said existing regulations on overtime have proved ineffective in practice. He argued that 2005 is crucial for the Greek economy and that competitiveness-boosting measures are needed in order to boost employment and public revenue, which in turn would enable the government to pursue social policies. «We support social dialogue and seek to strengthen entrepreneurship, in parallel with the maximum possible security for working people,» he said. Bank workers Separately, bank workers yesterday decided to pull out of the tripartite committee of dialogue with the government and banks on resolving the pressing issue of the sector’s auxiliary pension funds, and to go ahead with a slated nationwide strike on Monday. The decision of the Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE) came a day after the first meeting of the committee, which confirmed wide differences of opinion among the three sides but also a lack of consensus among banks themselves. The issue is considered pressing as listed firms this year will have to write their unfunded social insurance liabilities on their balance sheets, according to the requirements of International Financial Reporting Standards. The liabilities of some of them, particularly Emporiki Bank, are so large that they are estimated to seriously erode their capital base. Deliberations, which began before Christmas, have made little progress so far, as the parties have yet to agree on the formation of a single fund for all bank employees and on its legal status. The government has said it will contribute to a single fund in proportion to its bank holdings, and has urged banks to bear the brunt of the cost. A common stand by banks has been undermined by that of National Bank, the country’s largest, which has said its position is not as serious as that of the others. According to OTOE, the proposal tabled by the Finance Ministry on Wednesday will lead to a harmonization of bank workers’ social insurance status with that of the Social Security Foundation (IKA) over the next five years, implying a raising of retirement ages and a reduction in pensions. It said it will only return to the negotiating table if this proposal, which «uproots» the existing system and provides no insurance guarantees, is withdrawn and the banks submit a common proposal. Commenting on the issue, Polyzogopoulos warned that the government is trying to open the issue of reforming the pension system as a whole, which could lead to a confrontation with the unions. He warned that workers will not accept any erosion of existing rights.

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