Labor reform law set to be submitted next week

Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos hinted yesterday that a meeting next Monday with representatives of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) will mark the end of a dialogue over reform legislation on work hours. The government will submit a draft bill to Parliament the following week, Panayiotopoulos told reporters, following a meeting with the executive committees of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV) and the General Confederation of Greek Small Businessmen and Traders (GSEVEE). In any case, Panayiotopoulos’s meeting with GSEE is unlikely to lead to a breakthrough, as the unionists reject the government’s plans for a more supple work week, designed to suit the ups and downs of the business cycle. In fact, GSEE itself is split among factions. Thus, GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos, a socialist, will only appear at the meeting with the minister to denounce the dialogue process. Pro-government union grouping DAKE, while ambivalent about the legislation, has not broken off with Polyzogopoulos and will back him. Left-wing unionists consider the GSEE executive not radical enough in his opposition. The government, however, appears to have the tacit support of the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which has been mildly rebuking the government for not engaging in a «real dialogue» but has not launched any all-out attack. Yesterday, PASOK President George Papandreou repeated his position that the issue could be resolved by the GSEE and SEV alone. SEV Chairman and CEO Odysseas Kyriakopoulos was more direct about the bipartisan support for more supple work hours. «The revision of the existing law [Law 2874/2000] was among the plans of the previous (socialist) government, as well,» he said after his meeting with Panayiotopoulos. Despite their agreement, Kyriakopoulos chided the conservative government for its tardiness in preparing the new legislation and asked that it take into account European Union directives regulating work and rest hours for employees. Asked if that meant extending the 40-hour work week to an average of 48 hours, Kyriakopoulos refused to rule out such an eventuality. He added that work hours could be extended to up to 12 daily «in certain cases.» The government has promised to keep the 40-hour work week «on average» over a period of one year, adding that those employees who would be asked to put in longer work hours during a certain period would work less hours the remaining part of the year. For example, if an employee was asked to work 48 hours a week for half a year, without being paid overtime, he or she would work 32 hours a week for the rest of the year. Among other things, unionists object to the greater facility given to employers to alter the work week schedule with out prior consultation with the unions. Kyriakopoulos said that he did not yet envisage individual employees opting out of collective bargaining agreements, saying that «we still have a long way to go to reach such extremes.»

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